Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell gave a presentation to the county’s redistricting commission last week, examining the 2011 redistricting process and the impacts it has had on voter representation.

The county official said understanding that process may lead to a better result this time around.

“You guys are tackling the exact issues that we’ve dealt with in the past,” said McDonell, who led the 2011 redistricting effort. “And I think it’s important that you handle them in your own way. You do it the way you guys want to do it. That’s the whole point of the ordinance.”

McDonell served as county board chair from 2005-2012, presiding over the most recent round of redistricting in the county. At that time, supervisors were in charge of redrawing district maps.

He recalled the 2010 general election and the events that resulted in today’s supervisory districts.

“Ten years ago, what essentially happened was, there was a wave election. Republicans won across the country and Scott Walker took over,” McDonell said. “That’s when the governor introduced and passed Act 10, and all the protests were happening at the capitol. And the reason that’s important is, that spurred a wave of recall elections – not only the governor, but also several senators.”

Republicans feared that the recall elections would lead to loss of power in the state Senate. GOP lawmakers hurried through the legislative redistricting process to prevent that from happening.

The state legislature approved a redistricting plan before the county had chance to adopt its own.

“They rammed through a redistricting map that completely ignored all of the normal process of local municipalities and counties drawing the wards,” McDonell said. “To prevent Dane County from adding an Assembly or a Senate seat, they spread out parts of the county to the rest of the state.”

The legislature’s actions forced county supervisors to conform their districts so that they would fit within the state-drawn lines. It made for a difficulty redistricting process, to say the least.

McDonell said county board members did surprisingly well with what they had been given.

“I think it’s a pretty good-looking map,” McDonell said of the resulting supervisory districts, “except the west side of Madison is kind of a mess. And that was dealing with lots of county board members who lived near each other, who didn’t want to be put in with each other.”

A minority-majority district was created along the beltline, in an effort to increase minority representation on the board. McDonell said the district could have been drawn better, though.

“I think the consensus was that that actually hampered minority representation by packing people into one district. It also wasn’t really a community of interest,” McDonell said. “That’s going to be a real issue for you guys to tackle; what’s the right way to handle that?”

Commissioners asked what would be an appropriate minority population to have within a district.

UW-Madison professor David Canon, whom commissioners had requested attend the meeting, fielded the question. He advised no more than a 40% minority population in a district.

McDonell agreed, noting that packing a district with minority residents was a form of vote dilution.

“If you put too many leaders of the Latino community or the African American community in one district, then you’re pinning them against each other,” McDonell said. “That’s what I’ve seen and… I think you guys should think about that, about that element of it.”

Commissioners have begun looking at ways to maximize the number of minority-majority districts, by better balancing the population in districts with potential for minority representation.

Each supervisory district is expected to contain approximately 15,900 residents.

Senior Planner Brian Standing said minority-majority districts would need to encompass at least 4000 residents of a minority population to allow for fair participation in the political process.

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