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Wisconsin governor vetoes GOP election maps

Court proceedings are the likely next step for the state's legislative and congressional maps.

(CN) — Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has vetoed the state’s GOP-drawn legislative and congressional maps, calling them “gerrymandering 2.0” and kicking the issue to two different courts. 

Evers pointed out that the three maps, passed last week by the Republican-majority state Assembly, had all received an “F” rating from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which called them “very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn” and said that they heavily favored Republicans. 

The think tank, which evaluates maps for competitiveness, partisan fairness, geographic logic and minority representation, estimated that the new maps would favor Republicans in six of the state’s eight congressional districts, 59 of its 99 state Assembly seats and 25 of its 33 state Senate seats. 

“What’s sitting in front of me here are gerrymandered maps modeled after the same gerrymandered maps we’ve had for a decade,” Evers said in a video statement accompanying his veto. “Hundreds showed up on short notice to voice their opposition to these maps, and not a single member of the public testified in support of these bills at that public hearing. And they were sent to my desk over the objections of a decade’s worth of people in this state demanding better, demanding more, and demanding a fair, nonpartisan process for preparing our maps for the next 10 years.”

Evers also praised the People’s Map Commission, a nine-member nonpartisan commission selected by a panel of retired judges to draw fairer maps. Evers created the commission through executive order in 2020, giving it the power to make recommendations to the Legislature. Republicans stated early on that they planned to ignore the commission. 

Republicans defended their maps, which section off and heavily subdivide Democratic centers like Milwaukee and Madison, while passing their bills last week.

“They’re constitutional, they’re compact and contiguous, we follow all of the principles,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said during floor debate. Vos did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Evers’ veto could be overruled with a two-thirds majority vote, but Republicans fall just shy of that threshold in both the state Senate and state Assembly. More imminently, Wisconsin’s election maps face challenges before both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Madison’s federal court. 

The Supreme Court heard arguments early in November on a case brought by four Wisconsin taxpayers against GOP legislators for entering contracts with outside law firms in anticipation of a legal fight over redistricting. The taxpayers argued that nothing in state statutes allows lawmakers to engage outside counsel preemptively, particularly using taxpayer dollars. Lawyers for the lawmakers called a subsequent circuit-court order voiding the contracts “an unprecedented intrusion in the Legislature’s basic function.” 

Two federal court cases have also asked a panel of judges to intervene and implement new maps before next year’s elections. The pair of cases have been consolidated and are on hold pending the Supreme Court case. 

The state’s existing maps, drawn by Republican majorities and approved by then-Governor Scott Walker, also a Republican, have been bogged down in legal proceedings almost since they were drawn in 2011. A federal panel struck the maps down in 2016 as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, but the U.S. Supreme Court found in 2018 that the plaintiff voters had not proven standing and vacated the ruling. 

A renewed lawsuit was filed and then dismissed in 2019 following another ruling by the high court that courts should not take a role in the redistricting process. 

Evers and state Republicans are at loggerheads over several issues related to the elections, including two audits of the 2020 elections in the state. One bipartisan audit by the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau found no irregularities that could have altered the election results, but gave several security and efficiency recommendations to the Wisconsin Election Commission, which Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe took issue with. In response, several Republican leaders have called for Wolfe’s resignation. 

The second audit is led by Republican former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who has openly suggested that the election may have been stolen. Evers has decried that investigation and its $680,000 price tag as wasteful, and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has also voiced concerns that the legislature was exceeding its powers, that its subpoenas were “overbroad, vague, irrelevant and unduly burdensome” and that it was “not a serious investigation.” 

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