Wisconsin Legislature Passes Evers’ Legislative Maps With Poison Pill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature today passed legislative maps identical to those submitted by Gov. Tony Evers (D) in a bid to avoid a court-led redraw, rushing a process that Democrats labeled “shady political schemes.”

The proposals were approved via an amendment proposed by Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R). The original legislation, which had stalled in October, would have reworked Wisconsin’s redistricting system into a system modeled after Iowa’s, a plan that had drawn the skepticism of some Democrats since it rejects Iowa’s system of judicial review. Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand (D) had said that under the system it would be “impossible to expect Iowa-style fair results when you still have the capacity to gerrymander at the end of the day, which is what this bill allows for.”

However, today’s adopted amendment fully replaces that bill with legislative districts identical to those Evers had previously submitted in court documents, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. 

The bill passed the Senate in an 18-14 vote, without a public hearing or committee vote, a move Democratic state senators criticized. All but one Democrat voted against the bill, and five Republicans voted against it. Though the map is exactly as Evers’ proposed, Democrats have also expressed concern about when the maps would take effect. A provision within the bill text states that the new maps would not take effect until November, meaning any special or recall elections before then would be held under the gerrymandered maps. An effort to force a recall election of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) is currently underway.

Just hours later, the bill cleared the Wisconsin Assembly in a 63-33 vote. Only one Democrat voted to advance the proposal.

Democrats, who had already expressed skepticism of GOP efforts to adopt Evers’ maps, continued their doubts on Tuesday. Sen. Latonya Johnson (D) wrote on X:“If you believe that WI Republicans are planning to run on Gov. Evers’ maps in November, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.” 

Senate Democratic leaders blasted the Republican-led process in a fiery joint press release, making clear that they “will not participate in Republicans’ shady political schemes to maintain their manufactured majority.” The senators questioned the implementation timing, asking “[i]f this was a genuine proposal by Republicans, why would they wait any longer to implement fair maps in Wisconsin?” The statement closed by claiming that Republicans’ “motives today, like their actions of the past decade, are ill-intentioned and self-serving. Wisconsinites deserve better.” 

In an email to Democracy Docket, Sen. Melissa Agard (D), who represents Madison, railed against the actions of the GOP-controlled Legislature, arguing that the bill included a “poison pill provision” and pointing out the lack of public hearing or input. Agard alleged that Republicans had backed themselves into a corner in a “desperate” “politically motivated scheme” that was a “result of the GOP governing with a focus on maintaining power rather than listening to the will of the people.”

In a phone call, Sen. Chris Larson (D), who represents Milwaukee, told Democracy Docket that “the idea that after 14 years of gerrymandering that [Republicans] are going to try now to embrace a Democratic governor’s maps and not try shenanigans seems pretty far-fetched.” Larson added that the implementation timing would “freeze” the unconstitutional maps in place for longer than they should be, and that he “can’t see” Evers signing the proposals if they make it to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Jeff Smith (D) also told Democracy Docket that “strangely, at this juncture, the Governor’s maps offer the best case scenario for Republicans to hold onto control of the Senate and Assembly.” Smith added that “it’s about the will of the people – these maps haven’t been vetted by the public. The public has the right to choose who represents them rather than setting themselves up for years of unfettered power and lack of accountability.”

Offices of multiple Republican senators refused comment when contacted by Democracy Docket. The offices of Sens. Dan Feyen and John Jagler declined to speak on the matter, while Sen. Dan Knodl’s office urged Democracy Docket to instead “talk to Democrats.” 

A pair of redistricting experts hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court had previously determined that two GOP map submissions are partisan gerrymanders, and the remaining four submissions, including Evers’ map, are compliant with the state constitution.

In December, the new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the current maps for being noncontiguous and blocked them from being used in future elections. The implementation timing seemingly conflicts with that order, according to a research fellow at Marquette Law School, because the legislation would force recall and special elections that take place before November to be held under the struck-down maps. 

At the end of January, Evers vetoed state legislative maps that were hastily passed and jammed through by Republicans who nefariously altered a proposal by the governor to protect GOP incumbents. Evers described the maps as a “last-ditch effort” “designed to undemocratically serve the politicians who draft them.” At the time, Evers promoted the maps he submitted, arguing they are “responsive to the will of the people, avoid partisan bias and increase the number of competitive legislative seats.”

The legislation now heads to Evers for his signature. He previously said he would sign his maps if passed by the Legislature.

Read the amendment here.

Track the status of the maps here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Republicans added language changing the implementation timeline. It was the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau that added the language.