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Republicans unveil proposed redistricting maps based largely on existing boundaries

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Republican leaders on Wednesday unveiled their proposal for legislative and congressional district maps, which received immediate criticism for being based largely on existing GOP-drawn districts that have helped Republicans hold strong majorities in both chambers.

As Republicans had promised, the GOP proposal would largely align with existing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. The Legislature must redraw political lines every decade based on the latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The mapmaking process can provide an advantage for the majority party based on how district lines are drawn.

Lawmakers are at work drawing political maps for the next decade.

“The public has had an unprecedented level of input and influence over the map-drawing efforts,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in a statement. “We encouraged Wisconsinites to play an active role in the process, and their participation has fundamentally shaped the way the maps were drawn.”

The proposed maps would almost certainly ensure a GOP majority in the Legislature for another decade, said Ruth Greenwood, director of the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School. Greenwood ran the GOP-drawn maps through PlanScore — a program that predicts precinct-level votes for districts based on past election results and U.S. Census data.

“I’d say it’s as extreme as the gerrymander for the last 10 years,” Greenwood said. “It essentially bakes in almost the same level of partisan advantage and so we would expect to see another decade where it wouldn’t matter whether more people voted for Democrats than Republicans, Republicans would still maintain control.”

PlanScore is led by the Campaign Legal Center, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for nonpartisan maps.

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, criticized the Republican proposal for retaining the core of the state’s current political maps, which are regarded by some to be among the most gerrymandered in the nation.

“(Assembly Speaker Robin Vos) and Leader LeMahieu must listen to their constituents across the state, who are clamoring for a fair redistricting process and maps free of gerrymanders, and turn away from this dishonest scheme,” Chheda said in a statement.

Chheda said the Legislature should take up maps already proposed by Gov. Tony Evers’ People’s Maps Commission, which the Democratic governor created to provide an alternative to Republican-authored maps.

“These new maps are nothing more than gerrymandering 2.0,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, tweeted. “What Republicans have unveiled is simply a minor retooling of maps that were already found unconstitutional by the courts, using the same corrupt and secretive methods as last time around.”

Evers’ commission on Wednesday provided an updated proposal for legislative and congressional districts following criticism that the commission’s previous proposal didn’t have enough majority-minority districts.

The Republican leaders said they took into account hundreds of redistricting proposals, including those submitted by Evers’ commission, when drawing the maps. The GOP-led Legislature plans to vote on maps early next month.

“The Legislature took into account plans submitted from citizens all over the state and considered submissions from the governor’s People’s Maps Commission, so we are confident these maps are fair for all Wisconsinites,” Vos said.

Evers has said it’s unlikely he would sign into law any maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature that are based on the current ones.

With a GOP-backed lawsuit filed with the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court and a similar lawsuit brought by Democrats in federal court, it’s highly likely the state’s next 10-year maps will be decided in court.

According to the Reference Bureau, the new GOP-drawn maps would see six incumbent Republicans in the 99-member Assembly facing off in newly drawn districts.

Reps. Joe Sanfelippo and Mike Kuglitsch, both of New Berlin, would compete in the new 15th District; Ken Skowronski, of Franklin, and Chuck Wichgers, of Muskego, would both run in the new 82nd District; and Shannon Zimmerman, of River Falls, and Warren Petryk, of the town of Washington, would face off in the new 93rd District.

GOP lawmakers have enjoyed significant majorities for much of the past decade under the political maps they drew a decade ago with full control of the Legislature under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In 2011, Republicans were able to draw maps that delivered significant Republican legislative majorities throughout the past decade, even when Democrats won all statewide races in 2018. Republicans contend their advantage stems from Democrats being concentrated in urban areas.

A Wisconsin State Journal analysis of unofficial vote totals in Wisconsin legislative races showed that Democratic candidates received 46% of total votes cast in state Assembly races but ended up with only 38 of 99 seats after winning two new districts. In state Senate races, Democratic candidates secured about 47% of total votes, but only picked up 38% of the seats on the ballot and controlled only 12 of 33 seats.

Last year’s voting breakdown wasn’t as stark as in 2018, when Democrats swept all statewide elections and Democratic Assembly candidates secured about 53% of total votes cast, but they only ended up with 36% of the chamber’s seats. In 2016, Republicans garnered 52% of votes cast, yet won 65% of the Assembly seats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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