HUDSON — The spring ballot in St. Croix County will ask voters to take a stand on more than just candidates for office.
In addition to making their presidential preference, selecting County Board candidates and judges, voters will be faced with a referendum question asking whether St. Croix County should call on the state to adopt nonpartisan voting maps.
County Board passed a measure Tuesday, Jan. 7, approving the referendum question, which reads:
“Should St. Croix County request that the Wisconsin Legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional district plans and maps?”
St. Croix County Board passed a 2017 resolution in support of nonpartisan redistricting maps.
And if the 2020 referendum passes? It circles back to County Board.
The wording calls on county officials to make a request to state lawmakers — rather than the referendum itself representing that message to Madison.
County Administrator Pat Thompson said County Board member Roy Sjoberg drafted the 2020 referendum language.
Sjoberg confirmed the wording puts the issue before the board in the form of a resolution that would be sent to Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature “that the people of St. Croix County … have registered their opinion — and hopefully it will be a strong one — that we are rejecting gerrymandering.”
“It will be an interesting vote and I look forward to a positive result,” Sjoberg said.
The League of Women Voters is among groups championing the anti-gerrymandering effort. League members who called on board members to pass the resolution included Elizabeth Wood.
“The next round of redistricting must be fair,” she said at the meeting.
The issue has heated up in recent years, with Democrats seeking legal action in response to the 2011 maps created by Wisconsin’s GOP Legislature.
Wisconsin’s process calls on the Legislature to divide up voting districts by population following the census, which is held again this year. Critics of the process say it allows the majority party to manipulate districts to favor one party over the other in future elections.
Three County Board members — Tom Coulter, Jim Endle and Dan Fosterling — opposed the fair maps ballot resolution.
Endle offered two amendments to the board’s resolution, one of which called for sending it back to committee for retooling. He argued the resolution contained numerous fallacies and errors that require a second look.
“I question why we are even doing this,” Endle said.
County Board member Dan Hansen objected, offering what he called “the elephant in the room.”
“If we send it back to committee, it’s not going to get on the ballot,” he said. “If it doesn’t get on the ballot, it’s a procedural victory for somebody, a group of people, who want desperately to maintain an effort to oppress voters from getting to the poll and exercising their franchise.”
The comment appeared to rankle fellow County Board member Buck Malick.
“I resist the opportunity to impugn each other’s motives,” he said. “Don’t like to see that kind of behavior. I don’t think it’s warranted in this case.”