The People’s Maps Commission (PMC), the nine-member nonpartisan commission tasked with preparing maps for consideration by the governor and the Wisconsin State Legislature, released their final voting maps for the consideration of Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature this week, and if it is accepted, it may mean some changes as to who represents Burnett County in Madison.

The PMC was selected by a three judge panel, and is charged with drawing fair, impartial maps for the State of Wisconsin. They developed the new maps after a year-long process and significant public input. According to the PMC, the proposed maps ensure more competitive districts, respect publicly identified communities of interest and address Voting Rights Act concerns for majority/minority districts in the state. 

Wisconsin is considered among the most gerrymandered states in the country, after a literal backroom crafting process by attorneys and GOP leaders over a decade ago, which many have cited as lacking in actual integrity and ignoring the will of the voting electorate, as well as allowing legislators to ‘choose’ their voters. The process of adjusting the upcoming maps has had the spectre of that gerrymandered map looming above, which has led to harsh criticism, and not just from Democrats and not just in Wisconsin, as even though the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has failed to step-in on several gerrymandered map issues across the nation, they have admitted problems, such as Chief Justice John Roberts, who acknowledged that partisan gerrymandering was “incompatible with democratic principles,” while also suggesting that remedies were beyond his court’s purview.

Liberal SCOTUS Justice Elena Kagan dissented on the lack of action by the high court, and said gerrymandering is “… anti-democratic in the most profound sense."

The current, 2011 Wisconsin map was drawn when the GOP had a ‘trifecta’ of legislative and gubernatorial control, allowing them to ram the tainted map through, almost unchallenged.

“For years, the people of this state have asked their elected officials for nonpartisan redistricting. For years, the people of this state have demanded better and fairer maps. And for years, the people of this state have gone ignored,” said Gov. Evers. “The gerrymandered maps Republicans passed a decade ago have enabled members of this Legislature to comfortably ignore the people who elected them.”

The new PMC maps take into account a variety of factors cited in state law, and over the past year, 56 counties – including Burnett - have passed referenda or resolutions supporting a nonpartisan redistricting process and fair maps. According to a 2019 Marquette University poll, more than 70-percent of voters prefer redistricting done by a nonpartisan commission. 

“From the beginning, our effort to create fair and accurate redistricting maps was unique,” said PMC Chair Christopher Ford. “As a nonpartisan commission, at each step we have followed best practices for creating new legislative district maps with transparency, consensus, and voter input in mind rather than partisan advantage.”

In contrast, Republicans in the Legislature released their own maps several weeks ago that would effectively solidify current maps for the next decade, largely based on their existing, gerrymandered maps drawn using 2010 Census numbers and crafted to ensure their continued control of the Legislature, in spite of a nearly even split, party-wise in the most recent statewide votes.

As for how Burnett County would fare under the PMC maps, it appears that portions of the county that currently falls under Assembly District 28 would move into District 29 and District 73, with similar changes to the State Senate maps, which correspond. Current 10th District voters in west central Burnett County would switch to District 25, which currently has just a fraction of the county, but would then include the towns of West Marshland, Meenon, Lincoln, Siren, Daniels, Wood River and Grantsburg.  

It is unclear how the final map questions will be resolved, though it appears that the issue will need to be resolved in court, as Governor Evers would veto the revised GOP gerrymandered map, while the GOP-led Legislature is unlikely to approve the new, PMC proposed maps, in spite of it giving them an almost assured majority still for the next decade, albeit less dominating.

- With information from the PMC, Ballotpedia and the Wisconsin Legislature