The release of draft redistricting maps last Thursday, Sept. 30 by the so-called People’s Maps Commission (PMC) appear to leave Burnett County generally unchanged, so far. The PMC is a nine-member nonpartisan redistricting commission selected by a three judge panel, who are charged with drawing fair, impartial maps for the state of Wisconsin for future election line boundaries - literally setting the districts in both state and federal elections on who can represent the county.
Federal law requires that Congressional District lines must comply with the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act exists to prevent states and localities from drawing districts that deny minority populations a chance to elect a candidate of their choice. Wisconsin’s Constitution requires that each Senate district must contain at least three Assembly districts, and districts must be contiguous, as compact as practicable, and respect other political boundaries to the extent possible. But it is not set in stone.
Hearings have been held in each of Wisconsin's eight congressional districts as part of the commission's first phase of their work, started six months ago. According to the commission, this phase included hearing directly from Wisconsinites about how they have been impacted by redistricting, as well as ideas from community members on how to achieve fair maps in the state.
The PMC drafts do indeed see possible changes in the 7th Congressional District (CD), as well as possibly affecting both of the Assembly and Senate lines for the state Legislature, currently splitting Burnett County between the 28th and 73rd State Assembly districts, as well as splitting up the county for State Senate representation, between the 10th District, which skates the western border, to the 25th Senate District, which makes a ‘U’ that starts a in northern Burnett County and curls around Sawyer and Rusk Counties to the east and north.
The PMC released three possible drafts at the Thursday virtual meeting, with representatives of the various affected districts in attendance. The background on the process, options, preferences in each map and even how the nonpartisan commission reached what they believed would be perceived as literal non-partisanship.
But how is Burnett County affected? It appears that by all options, Burnett County would still be entirely in the 7Th CD, but that district is bound to change, due to a general lack of rural population, affected by other urban districts with much more growth. That change is most likely to occur in the far north and eastern edge of the current 7th CD.
Final takes on the Assembly and Senate maps are still up in the air, but it is possible that some portions of Burnett may change, as the three options presented all seem to leave most of the county alone, but appear to impact areas to the north more, although the impact is still on the ‘draft’ level, at this point.
As for what redistricting is and why it is needed, according to the AP, redistricting is described as the process of redrawing political boundary lines, once per decade, based on the latest census, showing how populations have changed in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010. U.S. House and state legislative districts must be redrawn to rebalance their populations. But mapmakers can and have create an advantage for their political party in future elections by packing opponents' voters into a few districts or spreading them thin among multiple districts - a process known as gerrymandering. Several states have been gerrymandered to the extreme, on both sides of the aisle.
The Wisconsin Legislature is in charge of drawing the lines for the state's eight congressional districts and 132 legislative districts. Local governments also must draw new lines for local offices, which is already in process in Burnett County and is expected to be addressed and approved at the October Burnett County Board meeting.
The current congressional and legislative districts in the Badger State are considered to be among the most gerrymandered in the nation, and were created in 2011, when Republicans controlled the Legislature and Republican Scott Walker was governor, they enacted maps over objections from Democrats who argued they consolidated and solidified GOP power through gerrymandering, while limiting and usurping the impacts of voters in Democratic-leaning areas.
Republicans gained seats in the Legislature over the past decade, even as Democrats won statewide elections for governor, attorney general and U.S. Senate in 2018 and in 2020 elected President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump.
With a divided government this year, the expectation is a court will have to ultimately draw the maps. That is what happened in Wisconsin under divided governments in 1982, 1992 and 2002.
As for the current PMC efforts and other actions on redistricting, Gov. Tony Evers established a commission to solicit public input over the past year with the ultimate goal of producing a map based off of those comments. Evers argues it is a more non-partisan way to approach redistricting. That group is the PMC, and they are expected to release its final draft map by the end of this month, taking public input until this Thursday, Oct. 7.
Bu the reality is that the State Legislature does not have to consider that PMC map, or any independently drawn map. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos initially criticized Evers' creation of the commission, calling it a “fake, phony, partisan process.'' But Republican leaders subsequently created a website and said they will entertain maps drawn by the commission and anyone else that are submitted by Oct. 15.
“With this broad public input, we are confident we will create a map that the governor will sign,'' Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said last week.
- With information from the PMC and the Associated Press