New Map For Supervisor Districts Submitted
But independent committee made no effort to protect incumbents. How will board vote?
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will soon consider a new map for supervisory districts approved by an independent redistricting committee — one which may make some supervisors very uncomfortable.
The Milwaukee County Independent Redistricting Committee (IRC), composed of six retired judges, voted Thursday to recommend a map of new supervisor districts to the county board for review and final approval.
The committee and the independent redistricting process were established in 2016 when the board passed a resolution, sponsored by Sup. John Weishan, Jr. and former Sup. Steve Taylor, creating a new process for redistricting.
The IRC has been working on the new maps since August, with the assistance of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) and county Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun.
SEWRPC was tasked with following a set of redistricting priorities — established by the independent committee — in order to draw new district maps for review by the committee.
The first thing the committee did when it began working on the new maps was to develop these priorities. The chief priority for the committee was to “honor the intent of the voting rights act, and recognition of racial and ethnic communities of interest, while noting that race is a social construct.”
With this as the primary directive, the map drawn by SEWRPC and approved by the committee has nine majority white districts, six majority Black districts, two majority Hispanic districts and one district that doesn’t have a majority of any race or ethnicity but does have a majority of non-white residents.
The committee’s other priorities, in order of importance, included respecting municipal boundaries, maintaining an equal population in each district with a maximum deviation of plus or minus four percent, and drawing district boundaries that are compact.
The judges decided to give no credence to this, given that their mandate was to draw maps that favored voters, not sitting politicians.
Sachin Chheda, a partner at Nation Consulting, director of the Fair Elections Project and chair of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, commented to the committee in August and stressed the importance of ignoring incumbency. Chheda noted that the current map has supervisory districts, “that stretch across the county and bring people together in a manner that’s designed to maximize the representation of certain political factions.”
Chheda said this sort of districting “isn’t in democracy’s interest,” adding: “If folks want their own political views to be represented on the county board, they need to win the hearts and minds of the voters.”
Thus, in the map being forwarded to the board a number of supervisors are drawn into the same district as one or more of their current colleagues. There are also five districts on the committee’s map that don’t have a sitting supervisor living within them.
With the Voting Rights Act as the chief priority of the committee, Hispanic representation on the county board also became a priority.
The 2020 census, which the redistricting effort relies on for population data, shows that the county’s Hispanic population grew more than 20% between 2010 and 2020. Under the maps of the past decade, there were two Supervisory districts that had Hispanic majorities, but only one was able to elect a Hispanic supervisor. That was district 12, currently represented by Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez.
The two districts on the South Side were a concern for community members and the redistricting committee, because of the increase in the Hispanic population and the possibility that they could be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
In public comment to the committee, Ortiz-Velez said it could be argued that both districts were examples of white vote dilution of a minority group, putting the district at odds with the Voting Rights Act.
The committee deliberated on this issue, and even held a public meeting seeking input from the Hispanic community on whether the new maps should have two Hispanic districts with significant majorities, or three districts with slimmer majorities.
The map ultimately approved has two Hispanic districts with a significant Hispanic population; district nine would be more than 70% Hispanic and district 13 would be more than 66% Hispanic.
Redistricting Process Behind Schedule
The independent committee has approved the map they will recommend to the county board, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before the maps can be certified and the question remains as to whether the county will meet the deadline to ratify new districts — November 23.
Under the timeline proposed by SEWRPC, which was already greatly accelerated to compensate for the delayed census data, the board would have received the recommended map from the IRC in early September providing time for the board to review and approve it before Sept. 15, at which point the maps would be given to the municipalities to draw up their election wards.
Based upon how the municipalities draw their wards, changes may need to be made to the county’s districts, necessitating further review and approval from the IRC, then more public meetings soliciting public feedback and approval by the county board.
The county board will meet on Oct. 1 to consider the map recommended by the independent committee, putting the already delayed process more than 15 days behind schedule.
A high-resolution map of the proposed districts is available on Urban Milwaukee.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article district 12 would be 66% Hispanic, it is district 13.
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Read more about Milwaukee County redistricting process here