The Village of DeForest, with the explicit support of residents who spoke at their Oct. 5 meeting, is reaching out to regional representatives to request village representation reflected in state and county redistricting.

The Dane County Board of Supervisors Redistricting Commission, on Sept. 30, publicly recommended three potential maps for new supervisory districts, while the non-partisan People's Maps Commission has announced three potential statewide maps for Congressional, Assembly and Senate districts.

The issue of the maps was brought to up for the DeForest Village Board so trustees would be able to weigh in on preferences to be forwarded within the comment periods for both committees.

New county lines

Attorney Al Reuter explained that among the three county options, one placed district lines that would cut into DeForest and also noted that trustees may want to consider ramifications of future annexation in their preferences.

That said, the trustees agreed to a ranked preference of options, with Trustee Rebecca Witherspoon offering a motion to have those preferences formally registered to District 22 Supervisor Maureen McCarville for consideration in the final selection.

Public input

State redistricting involved a more passionate discussion as five residents spoke on the matter with a sixth submitting comments to the board.

Speaking as a private citizen, DeForest Area School District Board of Education member Brian Coker approached the board first, encouraging the adoption of a resolution for a non-partisan procedure to determine state district boundaries.

"We need to stop treating politics as a two-team sport and treat it as the important and serious civic duty that it is," said Coker.

Post-census redistricting differs from state to state, with boundaries in Wisconsin drawn by the legislature to be approved by the governor. A common reference point mentioned by several speakers Tuesday is Iowa, where district maps are developed by a non-partisan redistricting commission.

Resident and owner-director of the Yahara River Learning Center school and daycare Macy Buhler highlighted a lack of outreach from her representative, to her as a business owner during the COVID crisis.

"Our rep (at the time, now-Senator John Jagler) has never reached out to me even though I've reached out to him several times," said Buhler. "I was asked to stay open during COVID and we served essential working families at my business, and we needed support right away. It took months on the state level...I'm kind of jealous that Iowa took care of it 40 years ago and we're so far behind."

At the online presentation of the draft district maps created by the Peoples' Maps Commission Associate Professor Moon Duchin of Tufts University, a software developer and part of the data analysis team that put together the maps based on local and regional data from Wisconsin, explained that hypothetically applying the newly proposed maps to previous elections did not altogether flip political control of the state.

The top priorities of the map developers were to create equally populated districts that, as much as possible, wholly include municipalities and communities of interest. The second part is a more nebulous term, but meaning groups of voters that would have similar issues and concerns such as having the same school district, local business interests or even cultural traits. After all of those, was the following request to, as much as possible, lay district borders with a preference to political equality.

What that meant, Duchin explained, is that the proportion of Republican voters versus Democratic voters in national elections--for governor or senator--should be comparable to the proportion of Democratic versus Republican representation in the State Senate and State Assembly.

“A thing that you can see in these different pictures is that the pattern looks rather different, by finding maps that rise and fall with the sea level, you’re able to see some purple emerging," said Duchin, showing the hypothetical analysis of non-partisan maps applied to the prior 14 elections. "You don’t only see safe seats for the two parties, but you see what I think people mean when they talk about competitiveness, you see the district’s ability to be won by either party.”

Showing a chart of the number of party-specific election wins over the past 14 elections, the proposed distribution shows a handful of districts on either side, zero or 14, meaning there will be some districts in which Republicans (or Democrats) win all or none of the past 14 elections, but then an assortment of results in between. The chart showing how Assembly elections have actually sorted in the past 14 elections shows Democrats winning every time in 32 districts, frequently in one district, and then all the other points showing Republicans winning half the time or more, including over 40 districts with only Republican wins.

Although statewide gerrymandered redistricting does not guarantee all votes going to one party or another, it creates more cemented safe districts and in a state with a historically near perfect 50-50 divide of Republican and Democratic voters, nudges results in one direction to all but guarantee permanent control of lawmaking, budgeting, and state cabinet position approvals.

That certainty also affects legislators' willingness to cooperate with legislators across the aisle, or with the governor's office, knowing that their greatest political risk is potentially in a primary by a candidate of the same party. There is also a reasonable assumption for legislators that if the governor is of a different party, they can avoid accusations of party disloyalty by continuing to work on legislation regardless of the inevitability a veto, knowing they can wait it out until another election brings a governor of the same party.

At the DeForest Village Board meeting Jean Jacobson explained how in 2011 the village was shifted from being a significant part of one district to being broken into small parts of three districts, and that across the municipalities and 56 of 72 counties have passed resolutions calling for non-partisan redistricting.

Mary Sanderson put the matter in more stark terms of self-respect for village trustees.

"When DeForest was torn apart in 2011, we were disrespected and disempowered, and to me that shows a very big flaw in the law," said Sanderson. "So I am just hoping that our board, as a humiliated party from this bad system, will be eager to adopt a resolution calling for fair mapping procedures for the whole state."

Agreeable options

Trustee Abigail Lowery presented draft redistricting options to the board developed by the People's Maps Commission and among the three sets of options, she pointed out a clear preference against "Option 2" which would still split up DeForest.

The other two choices appeared more up to interpretation of DeForest's "communities of interest." The first would place DeForest with the demographically similar Village of Waunakee, while the other put DeForest and Windsor together.

Lowery moved for the Village Board to give an official preference of two of the three options to be submitted to the People's Maps Commission, placing DeForest in a single district.

Given the areas of overlap with Windsor--geographically, movement of residents, the school district, fire district, and  Community and Senior Center--Trustee Taysheedra Allen requested an amendment to prioritize placement with the Village of Windsor. Accepted as a friendly amendment, the board ranked preferences of being with Windsor first, being with Waunakee second, and both far above an option that divides DeForest.

The board unanimously agreed to the motion to convey priorities to the People's Maps Commission.

Finally, Lowery brought up the work being done in the legislature, in which there is an online portal for parties to "draw your district," and the other opportunity for input being public hearings when a final map proposal is brought to committee in the Capitol.

"There's not really a middle point, like we're seeing with the People's Maps Commission or the county board where they have proposals and we can weigh in," said Lowery. In light of that, Lowery proposed that the village pass a resolution similar to the one recommended by residents that evening, calling for non-partisan redistricting to be brought up at the next meeting.

Asked whether placement of DeForest within a single district should be a priority, Sen. John Erpenbach (D-West Point) responded: 

“This process is a long way from done, but through the People’s Maps Commission, Governor Evers is working to get public feedback to ensure fair maps for Wisconsin voters. I have always advocated for nonpartisan redistricting reform that takes politics out of the process so that voters choose their elected officials, not the other way around.”

Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) responded to a similar question:  

“I have not heard from the DeForest Village Board about this potential resolution or action at this point, but as the state legislature is tasked with drawing legislative boundaries, I appreciate hearing their feedback. I welcome all constituents, groups and municipalities who are interested in the map drawing process to submit their own maps through the legislature’s Draw Your District website."

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) responded that as a politician she is not involved in the People's Maps Commission and would not be willing to specifically advocate for one map over another in the process, but would maintain that "people should choose their politicians, not the other way around. The People's Maps Commission process addresses that." She added that she believes it is beneficial for communities to remain together as much as possible.

As of print, there have not been responses from Rep. Jon Plumer (R-Lodi), Sen. John Jagler (R-Watertown), or Rep. William Penterman (R-Columbus).

On Sept. 28 on a party-line vote, Republican state legislators passed a resolution stating redistricting priorities, including the intention to maintain current district boundaries to, "Retain as much as possible the core of existing districts, thus maintaining existing communities of interest, and promoting the equal opportunity to vote by minimizing disenfranchisement due to staggered Senate terms..."

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