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Supreme Court tosses Wisconsin legislative voting maps

U.S Supreme Court
Posted at 11:54 AM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-23 21:30:49-04

WISCONSIN — As local clerks rush to get voters in their municipalities prepared for upcoming elections, the United States Supreme Court has thrown out Wisconsin state legislative maps that were preferred by the state’s Democratic governor and selected by Wisconsin’s top court.

The decision is the latest delay in understanding what Wisconsin's voting map will look like.

"We're almost a year behind where we would have liked to have been," Sandi Wesolowski, Franklin City Clerk said.

Wesolowski says this process should have been finished around last summer, a full 13 months before the August election cycle. Now, she will have roughly four months to get everything situated for voters.

"The election year really hasn't kicked in yet," said Wesolowski, who regularly works close to 12 hour days. "We're at April's election but in November and August is really when the big kick will come in. That's when the new boundaries, if they occur, will happen."

Wesolowski has helped in the past four redistricting efforts. She calls this the most difficult she's had to participate in. According to the Evers' Least Change maps, which were tossed by the Supreme Court today, would have required Franklin to add three new wards. What sounds like a simple task is more intense, says Wesolowski.

"The complexity is just another level. We like to think about how the voter understands things, so you try to make it simple so they don't have to know all these combinations. They just have to know their ward or aldermanic district."

Wesolowski learned of the Supreme Court decision while talking with the I-Team. While there is still more to learn, she's taking an optimistic approach to this news, despite the condensed time frame.

"It could potentially be a benefit if they're throwing out the maps that we were asked to be abiding by," Wesolowski said. "If we have to redraw those lines for those wards, it will impact the City of Franklin by adding additional ballot types. You'd go from 28 different ballot combinations to 33 which is the most we have ever had."

But others don't feel so optimistic.

"To rush in here with a decision today and throwing chaos into the system, making the lives of local folks harder," Sachin Chheda, Char of Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition said. "We don't know who is running. We don't know where to vote."

Chheda, who has worked as a consultant for the Democratic Party, fears the upcoming elections in the fall will be thrown into disarray by this decision. Time is quickly running out to have voters be well prepared to participate and the options for change, according to Chheda, are dwindling.

"They could edit the Evers map, they could actually just resubmit the map but with a different rationale," Chheda said. "They could pick a different map. They could ask for more submissions for more maps, although I think that's unlikely considering the timeline we're under."

"I know it's going to be quick," Rick Essenberg with Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) said. "I know it's going to be last minute but I think it can be done."

Republicans had complained that Gov. Tony Evers’ maps moved too many people to create more districts with a majority of Black and Hispanic voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Essenberg, with the conservative public interest group WILL, echoes that sentiment.

"The Governor's decision to draw districts based on race raised grave constitutional concerns," Essenberg said. "It would be difficult to edit the Evers map because he conceded he drew the map, taking race into account. I don't know that we're back to square one because there were a number of maps proposed and not all were drawn upon race."

He points to verbiage used in the Supreme Court decision as reason for the errors made by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court:

"We agree that the court committed legal error in its application of decisions of this Court regarding the relationship between the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and the Voting Rights Act."

But while the justices in an unsigned opinion threw out voting maps drawn for the State Assembly and Senate, they left in place state congressional maps.

Ultimately, clerks like Wesolowski just want a decision made soon so they can ensure voters know what to do come election time.

"Drawing maps, that's not my profession," Wesolowski said. "I'm a city clerk, not map drawing. But it has to get done."

Gov. Evers released the following statement Wednesday in response to the decision:

“The good news with today’s decision is that the congressional maps we proposed will remain in place—that’s great news for the people of our state and our democracy, and it’s been a long time coming.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States today made a remarkable departure, even from their own recent actions, by deciding to reject our maps that the Wisconsin Supreme Court selected just a few weeks ago. Our maps are far better than Republicans’ gerrymandered maps we have now and their maps I vetoed last year, and we are confident our maps comply with federal and state law, including the Equal Protection Clause, the Voting Rights Act, and the least-changes standard articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“If we have to go back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court—who have already called our maps ‘superior to every other proposal’—to demonstrate again that these maps are better and fairer than the maps we have now, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. I will not stop fighting for better, fairer maps for the people of this state who shouldn’t have to wait any longer than they already have to ensure their voices are heard.”

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