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Wisconsin Senate to vote on GOP ‘Iowa-style’ redistricting bill

The plan differs from the one backed by Democrats last session

A wide view of the Senate chambers showing the seats and rotunda ceiling.
The Wisconsin State Senate chambers on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The state Senate will vote Tuesday on a bill to create what Republicans supporters call an “Iowa-style” system of redrawing voting maps in Wisconsin, a measure that is likely headed for a veto.

The move comes as the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s new liberal majority considers several map proposals to replace the current Republican-drawn districts.

The GOP bill would direct the Legislative Reference Bureau to draw state Assembly and Senate maps, which would then have to be approved by state lawmakers without any amendments. Under the bill, if legislators can’t agree, the process would repeat.

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However, unlike a previous version of the plan, the Legislature could take over map-drawing on a third vote, which would leave the door open to Republicans drawing a new map themselves.

Before liberals took control of the state Supreme Court last August, Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, opposed the idea of letting a nonpartisan agency draw legislative maps. When the “Iowa-style” bill was introduced in September, Vos said he prefers the current system where maps are drawn by the Legislature, but “I also think that most Wisconsinites don’t want us to waste millions and millions of dollars” on redistricting lawsuits. 

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 66-32. All Republicans supported the legislation. All but two Democrats opposed it. Lawmakers from both parties accused one another of hypocrisy, with Republicans taunting Democrats for previously pushing for an Iowa redistricting model in Wisconsin. In turn, Democrats chided Republicans for their change of heart on the issue at a time when the Supreme Court was considering two lawsuits seeking to strike down GOP-drawn voting maps. 

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers immediately criticized the GOP bill, saying Republicans “cannot be trusted to appoint or oversee someone charged with drawing fair maps.” A veto from him is all but certain. 

As Senate votes, Supreme Court considers new maps in redistricting suit

The Wisconsin Senate’s consideration of the redistricting bill comes a little more than a week before two redistricting experts, hired by the Supreme Court’s liberal majority, are slated to release a report on competing map proposals from several parties in a state redistricting lawsuit. One of those, or a new proposal drawn by the court’s experts, could eventually replace current GOP maps, which liberal justices found were unconstitutional in December.

An analysis by Marquette University Research Fellow John Johnson found if the 2022 election was held using map proposals now before the court, Republicans would be projected to lose seats but maintain legislative majorities in almost every option. 

The court’s redistricting consultants have until Feb. 1 to release their report on how maps proposed by parties to the lawsuit measure up against the criteria laid out by the court’s criteria.

Republicans have hinted they will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.