Wisconsin Senate poised to approve GOP-backed redistricting plan

The state Senate is poised to vote Monday to approve a set of Republican-drawn political district maps that could help determine the balance of power in Wisconsin for the next 10 years.

GOP lawmakers who control the state Legislature unveiled their bills outlining new state legislative districts and congressional districts last month. Since then, a number of nonpartisan groups have decried the proposed districts — which are very similar to the state’s current maps — as partisan gerrymandering that gives Republicans too much of an advantage in future Wisconsin elections. Hundreds of citizens packed the state Capitol last month to testify against the maps during a legislative public hearing. 

During Monday’s debate, Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, argued the state’s narrowly divided partisan split, seen in recent razor-thin statewide elections, should mean there is a near even divide between Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.

“While it might be technically legal for a legislative majority to create maps that give them a huge partisan advantage, it isn’t fair,” Bewley said. 

Senate Democrats advanced their own map proposals during the debate, which Bewley said would give Democrats a 17-16 majority in the state Senate. The plan failed on a mostly party-line vote of 22-11. Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, joined Republicans in voting against the plan. She said it doesn’t do enough to ensure adequate representation for minority communities. 

A state Assembly committee is also scheduled to vote on the GOP maps Monday. The full Assembly is expected to take up the maps Thursday.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has said he will veto the Republican-drawn maps when they arrive at his desk. If he does so, the mapmaking process would move to the courts. There are already state and federal lawsuits pending in anticipation of a stalemate between the GOP-controlled Legislature and governor. 

The Republican-drawn maps, along with lawmakers’ maps and maps drafted by a commission created by Evers, could be considered by the courts.

The last time the Wisconsin Supreme Court handled a case related to redistricting was in the 1960s, though Republicans are pushing for the court to have jurisdiction over mapmaking this year.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

For more on the history of redistricting in Wisconsin and how it impacts political power in the state, check out WPR’s investigative podcast series, “Mapped Out.”