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County seeks outside help for redistricting

--- No politicking allowed, says planning group

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April 18, 2007, 9:57 a.m.)

The Walworth County Executive Committee Tuesday chose the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to create the 11 new supervisory districts that voters showed they wanted following the April 3 election.

Citizens voted to downsize the Walworth County Board from 25 to 11 supervisors, 8,061 to 6,956.

When SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson starts to tackle the project, one rule is clear: No politicking allowed.

The executive committee decided that supervisors are to not call SEWRPC to try and sway how lines are drawn. All concerns will have to come through the executive committee.

Reducing the size of the board by more than half will undoubtedly pit incumbents against incumbents during the 2008 election.

"Even under the best of circumstances, nerves are definitely on edge here as the process goes about," Evenson said. "Who else is in one's district?

"It's a process members of the board will keenly be interested in as well as members of the community."

County staff redrew district lines when the board downsized in 2002 and took heat from some supervisors, Evenson said.

"Any process that you decide to do is going to be subject to the allegation that politics were involved or (supervisors) somehow someone got cooked," he said.

Using SEWRPC should limit those allegations.

"It does not matter in the least to us where each of the 25 incumbent supervisors live," Evenson said. "I don't know exactly where any of you reside. I don't want to know and I don't need to know."

SEWRPC, free of charge to the county, will take on the task of creating 11 districts of "substantially equal" population, targeting differences of plus or minus 3 percent.

Using 2000 census figures, as mandated by state law, each district will have about 8,400 residents. However, districts figure to have 9,100 residents based on recent census estimates.

Creating substantially equal boundaries will be tricky, but it is doable, Evenson said.

The worst-case scenario would be a court challenge to the new district lines by someone who feels they aren't being equally represented because new development won't be counted. Evenson wasn't sure what would happen if such a challenge were proposed.

Besides having as similar populations as possible, each new district must:

-- be as contiguous as possible

-- be as compact as possible

-- have the smallest number of school districts as possible

-- represent as much of a whole municipality as possible

-- use existing ward lines

Municipal clerks will be challenged to make sure voters get the right ballots once the new district lines are drawn, County Clerk Kim Bushey said. Clerks will have to change information in the new and often problematic Statewide Voter Registration System to include new county supervisory districts.

"What is going to be a challenge is the state has not yet developed procedures with SVRS," Bushey said. "First we have to have some lines. Once the lines are drawn it will be a tight timeframe to make sure the data in SVRS reflects the proper, newly-created districts."

The state requires the new lines be registered by Nov. 15. The county is hoping to have new districts approved by the October county board meeting.

SEWRPC will develop a timeline for creating a new district boundary map or maps within the next few weeks.

Developing and approving the new lines will include a review by all municipalities and at least two public hearings.

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