COVID-19 hampered U.S. census takers’ ability to complete population counts last year, causing delays in reporting the data. That’s created a time-crunch for those tasked with drawing districts and voting ward maps.
With U.S. Census Bureau’s data released four months late, Dane County’s nonpartisan citizen redistricting commission has set an ambitious timeline for drawing a revised map of supervisory districts to adopt.
In past census years, population data became available in April, said Dane County Senior Planner Brian Standing. Standing, with Elections Management Specialist Rachel Rodriguez from the Dane County Clerk’s office, is staffing the redistricting commission.
This time around, the data wasn’t released until Aug. 11, and now “the clock starts ticking,” Standing said. In a non-pandemic year, the county board would have 60 days to produce a tentative district map to present to the county’s towns, cities and villages. Those municipalities would then have 60 days to draw the wards, and by state law, the counties would adopt the map July 31.
“Nobody’s meeting that deadline,” Standing said.
In Dane County, those involved in the redistricting effort are working to accelerate the process in order to meet the filing deadline for the spring elections.
A memo from Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and Board Chair Alaliese Eicher to municipal leaders notes that the county “experienced the largest growth in Wisconsin, adding approximately 60,000 new residents over the last decade.”
“Given the amount of changes that have happened in the last 10 years, we really want to make the spring election reflects the current population, not the population that existed 10 years ago,” Standing noted.
The nonpartisan commission, appointed this year to ensure a fair redistricting process for county supervisors, met Aug. 10 and adopted an expedited schedule to present three maps to the Dane County Executive Committee. That committee will then recommend one map to the Dane County Board. The goal is to complete the process by Nov. 18.
Right now, the nonpartisan committee is looking for residents to identify their communities of interest, so the maps keep them intact. An online tool allows area residents to draw their own maps and help commissioners with the process. It can be found at Representable.org.
From Sept. 1-30, the nonpartisan redistricting commission will work on the maps based on a number of criteria.
Two public hearings will be set, the first on Sept. 23 when the nonpartisan commission will hear from the public about their maps in a virtual format. Afterwards, on Sept. 30, the commission will present three maps that meet the redistricting criteria before an Oct. 4 meeting when they will present and answer questions to the county board’s executive committee.
On Oct 14 , the county board will hold a public hearing and adopt a tentative supervisory district plan, and afterwards, municipalities can submit their ward plans to Dane County by Nov. 5.
Town of Westport Administrator Tom Wilson is a member of the nonpartisan commission. He said he hopes the commission’s maps achieve fairness, giving a voice to all, including those who are underrepresented. While the time crunch is a challenge, he believes the commission can meet it.
The more difficult challenge will be making sure those are underrepresented are represented and drawing the maps with no bias, Wilson said.
“We’re supposed to be looking at this blindly, but it’s hard to do that when you think all these county board members are pretty good, and you don’t want redistricting to take them out,” Wilson said.
Westport has seen little growth in the past 10 years, so drawing the wards to match the new supervisory districts should not be difficult, according to Wilson. And in both Waunakee and Westport, citizens vote at large for all board members. That’s not the case in larger cities, like Madison, where wards are represented by different alders.
“For those places, it becomes more important. How do we get aldermanic district boards that also match county board seats?” Wilson said, adding that the county’s staff will need to reach out to those communities.
Standing said staff is trying to work with communities now, as part of their wards may change as a result of this census.
The U.S. Census Bureau data can be found at census.gov.