(Illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)
(Illustration by Morgaine Ford-Workman)

Census tampering by former President Trump is delaying results and delaying plans to put fair maps in front of voters for the next decade.

Due to delays in the US Census Bureau compiling and releasing the 2020 census data, Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature have put forward a proposal where the 2022 spring election would be based on the current 2011 district maps and the new redistricting maps wouldn’t be completed until July 2022. 

Despite the complications of conducting a nationwide count during a global pandemic, the Trump administration decided to cut the census’s count short by one month, even though Census Bureau analysts warned that doing so could result in errors. Anomalies were found in the data which, combined with the pandemic, has delayed the release of census data to states to start the redistricting process. 

The latest estimate from the Census Bureau is that it will release that data in mid- to late-August. The proposal discussed on Monday by the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review, and Consumer Protection would set the following deadlines:

  • Counties would have tentative supervisor districts completed by Feb. 22
  • Municipalities would adopt new wards between April 15 to May 15 
  • Municipalities and counties would have to revise wards so they conform to state and federal district boundaries, just like in 2011
  • Final maps would be implemented in July 2022 and used in the spring elections of 2023

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, first testified the authors should have given the public more time to review the bill, which was introduced on Friday, the same day the Monday hearing was announced. He also pointed out that holding elections in 2022 using the 2011 maps would dilute the votes of people who lived in districts that had grown in population, such as Madison, which has grown by 12% since the last census. Doing so would effectively disenfranchise those new residents, Rothschild said.

“You’re setting yourself up for a lawsuit here with Wisconsin taxpayers to pay the bill—again,” Rothschild said. “Any lawyer worth his or her salt is going to have a plaintiff in an overpopulated district.”

RELATED: Unlike 2011, Gerrymandered Maps in Wisconsin Won’t Sneak Up on Voters

Rothschild and Scott McDonnell, Dane County Clerk and legislative committee chair of the Wisconsin County Clerks Association, also opposed the continued practice of municipalities having to modify their districts to conform with state and federal boundaries. Before 2011, it was the other way around; municipalities would set their districts and the state and federal districts would be built on top of those. That local line-drawing was well underway when Republicans who had just taken over the Legislature forced the new system upon them.

McDonnell said that change has affected voting on multiple levels. First, when municipalities draw their districts, they do so with polling locations, communities, and potential growth areas in mind. And slicing up those municipal districts makes administering elections more complicated. He pointed to Mt. Horeb and DeForest, which have similar populations, but while Mt. Horeb is all in one state legislative district, DeForest has been divided into three. 

“It is a logistical nightmare and it’s completely unnecessary,” McDonnell said.

However four members of the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), including Marcie Rainbolt, government affairs associate, testified that they want to see the Republican’s proposed timeline implemented because of how many times the census has delayed the data release and how long they believe it will take them to properly redraw their districts.

“I have no confidence [the data] will be delivered by Aug. 16,” Rainbolt said. “We do believe we need your help getting local districting done.”

And while McDonnell argued redistricting could be done on a quicker timeline due to technology, WCA legal counsel Andy Phillips disagreed.

“I see far greater problems if we rush through a process,” Phillips said. “Yes, there are other options but those other options are not feasible.”

While Rothschild and McDonnell argued on the grounds of equal representation against delaying the maps, Phillips argued that he was more concerned about Supreme Court case law regarding race and redistricting and ensuring equitable representation. 

“There’s no debate that the maps cannot be drawn in a matter of weeks,” Phillips said. 

Representatives from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Wisconsin Towns Association stated that while some members thought they could get redistricting done on a shortened timeline, some did not, and that even in smaller communities, clerks wanted certainty ahead of an election. 

The committee’s public hearing concluded without a date being set on when it will take a vote on the bill.