Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Create Independent Redistricting Committee

An historic first. But six retired judges must act fast to create new legislative maps.

By - Aug 16th, 2021 02:58 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County’s first-ever, independent redistricting committee — not done by the county supervisors — is beginning its work under less-than-ideal circumstances.

The census data required for drawing new legislative maps recently arrived from the federal government, which was several months late. Typically, redistricting would already be well underway.

In February, the U.S. Census Bureau released a statement saying the delay was due to “COVID-19-related delays and prioritizing the delivery of the apportionment results.”

This means the county’s first attempt at independent redistricting will occur under a time crunch.

Rather than supervisors drawing the lines, typically with an eye toward protecting their incumbency, a committee composed of six retired judges is tasked with drawing new maps for the board’s 18 supervisory districts. The committee was created in 2016 when the board passed a resolution changing the county’s ordinance covering the redistricting process.

The six judges chosen for the committee include Charles Clevert, Jean DiMotto, James A. Gramling, Jr., Charles F. Kahn, Jr., Frederick P. Kessler and Mary M. Kuhnmuench.

The census bureau originally planned to deliver census data for redistricting by the end of March. Now, the committee and the county board are under the gun with a deadline for ratifying new districts by Nov. 23rd — in time to publish notices for the spring election cycle.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed legislation in June that attempted to pause redistricting for counties and municipalities until after the 2022 Spring Election cycle. Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the bill on July 9th, saying, “In attempting to solve one problem, the bill creates a larger one… This will result in malapportioned maps that do not accurately reflect current populations, which violates the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.”

Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez raised this same concern at a meeting of the board’s Judiciary Safety and General Services committee in July. She said that if the maps were not redrawn in time, there could be some supervisory districts that could be considered in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It was at that July committee hearing that supervisors gave the first approval to the six retired judges who will recommend new maps for county supervisors. The full board gave final approval to the appointees at the end of the month. The board also simultaneously altered the county’s redistricting ordinance to eliminate a public comment period for the redistricting committee appointees, at the request of Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson.

At a meeting of the board’s Finance Committee in July, Sup. Sheldon Wasserman introduced a resolution which eliminated a 60-day comment period for nine community groups, specified in the original ordinance, to provide feedback on the candidates for the independent redistricting committee.

Nicholson, as the chairperson, selects the candidates for the committee. A spokesperson for the county board, after this article was first published, said that a 60-day comment period was given for all appointees except Clevert, the last appointee, whose appointment was made in June. So the ordinance had to be changed in order to expedite the process already delayed by the census.

Wasserman told the Finance Committee that Nicholson did still reach out to the groups specified in the original ordinance for comment directly. These groups included: Marquette University Law School, UW-Milwaukee School of Public Administration, the NAACP, Voces De La Frontera, The League of Women Voters, The Milwaukee Urban League, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Wisconsin Policy Forum and The Intergovernmental Cooperation Council of Milwaukee County.

Steve Cady, policy and research director, told the committee that because the appointees were going before the county board for approval there was still an opportunity for public comment. Wasserman echoed this, and said “most importantly, it’s still independent.”

Sup. John Weishan, Jr. said the changes to the ordinance are “appropriate,” adding that they fit “within the spirit” of the original ordinance.

“If the federal government had gotten their act together and acted appropriately we would not need any of the changes that we have today,” he said.

The new committee meets for the first time Monday afternoon.

Categories: MKE County, Politics, Weekly

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us