After months of deliberation, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved a final version of the county’s redistricting map Thursday night, outlining new voting boundaries following the 2020 census.
This is the first time the county has used a nonpartisan redistricting commission of 11 people appointed by the county clerk and County Board chair to draw redistricting maps. The goal of the new voting boundaries is for each person’s vote to count equally and is central to who runs for local elected office.
The county Executive Committee unanimously passed the amendment earlier on Thursday, moving it forward to the full board, which approved the new map with 33 supervisors in favor, one no vote, one abstention and two supervisors absent.
Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, District 23, voted against the new borders and Supervisor Larry Palm, District 12, abstained from voting, both voicing concerns of the overall redistricting process. Stubbs said she struggled to get answers to questions from staff who were assigned to work with the commission.
“When we're talking about redistricting, it really impacts the future of the County Board and impacts the future of constituents,” Stubbs said. “As an African American, it is my right to ask some very difficult questions. We have 37 County Board supervisors. In 16 years, I’ve served with three African Americans and now we're down to two.”
Stubbs added that changes in representation were not happening quickly enough.
On Sept. 30, the Dane County Redistricting Commission recommended three options to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. One of those maps created seven competitive districts, which means majority minority districts. However, the final map only has five.
“I've heard the conversation that five competitive districts in the next year or two could be seven, but why do we have to wait a year or two when this board does not adequately reflect the amount of people that actually live in our community?” Stubbs asked the board.
She called the decision to not select the map with more competitive districts “shameful.”
“We are given an opportunity today, given all the racial unrest around the country… but the final map that came to me is not reflective of where this county needs to move,” Stubbs said.
Brian Standing, a senior planner for the county who was involved in creating the new district boundaries, explained that the independent redistricting commission was very concerned about packing — a tactic that deliberately places a high percentage of racial and language minorities in very few districts, diluting their overall influence.
“In my opinion, this plan does exactly the opposite,” Standing said.
Given Dane County’s voting history, the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison advised the redistricting commission that a target threshold of 40% for minority populations per district was sufficient.
Compared to the previous map from the past decade, where two districts were created that had a 40% minority population, the new plan has five districts that hit or exceed that threshold. Additionally, two new districts are between 38% and 39% minority districts. It’s likely that within the 10-year lifespan of the plan, those districts will also exceed 40%.
Stubbs raised more concerns over the Voting Rights Act, a nationwide prohibition against voting practices, including redistricting plans, that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center and a member of the commission, explained at the Thursday meeting how the Voting Rights Act doesn't demand that districts have a majority minority population. Instead, if followed, it considers the degree of racially polarized voting in the community — the amount to which white voters and non-white voters participate differently.
“The commission really targeted our efforts at creating as many of those districts as possible,” Burden said. “We ended up producing five of them that had more than 40% non-white populations. Two of them are actually over 50%.”
Burden told the Cap Times he believes the commission gave racial representation due influence. And with the demographic changes happening in the next decade, even before the maps are gone, Burden said it’s likely that in seven out of 37 districts in the county minority groups will make up over 40% or 50% of the population.
“I think those are good signs and reflect the growing diversity of the county on its own,” he said. “I think the maps also made an effort that minority groups are represented and that’s something that appeared not to happen 10 years ago.”
Many supervisors agreed that the overall redistricting process was imperfect and messy, but concluded the map turned out well in the end.
“It's a testament to Dane County that this was such an open and transparent process,” Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle, District 1, said. “Incumbency was not taken into a factor with these maps, which I think is a real credit to (the) people who care about having free and fair elections and who care about preserving our democracy.”
Supervisor Cecely Castillo, District 4, compared the county’s redistricting process to that of the state, where the party in power often uses the process to stay in the majority.Gov. Tony Evers vetoed legislative and congressional redistricting plans Thursday after they were approved last week by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.
“We are an example of how things can be. It’s still messy. I’m wrapping my head around changes. The process has been impressive.”
Burden said Dane County’s process could be a potential model for counties across the state and country.
“There’s nothing that was out of public view and I think that’s a really helpful model that the state should consider,” he said. “All those efforts (from other counties) are an experiment and Dane County got the experiment right.”
Federal law dictates that each district has to be within 5% of 15,176 individuals — so some neighborhoods have been moved or split in half by the new district lines.
If you’re curious about whether your neighborhood, or even your individual block, is in a new district, all the specific changes are laid out here. The most substantial developments are:
The neighborhood south of Madison College — between Anderson Street, North Stoughton Road, East Washington Avenue and Wright Street — was moved from District 12 into District 6.
An area between Mineral Point Road, South Whitney Way and South Segoe Road — including the Odana Hills Golf Course and Odana Hills Park — was moved from District 10 to District 7.
Areas around Lake Wingra, including areas between Monroe Street, Knickerbocker Street, North Wingra Drive, Martin Street, Arboretum Drive and Manitou Way — including all of Nakoma Golf Club — were moved from District 4 to District 7.
An area south of Putnam Road/Williamsburg Way, including neighborhoods near Walden Way, Prairie Road and Danville Drive were moved from District 14 to District 8.
Areas between County Road F, County Road ID and County Road JG near the village of Blue Mounds, containing 46 people, were moved from District 30 to District 28.
The new district map will go into effect for spring 2022 elections.