March 28, 2022 |
Governor Mark Gordon allowed the redistricting bill to become law on Friday without his signature. In a letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchannan, the governor wrote, “Redistricting is an inherently legislative process and, therefore, I must assume this final product represents the ‘best effort’ of this Legislature. The governor added that he was allowing House Enrolled Act 62—the final amended version of the bill to come out of conference—to become law without his signature.
The jig-saw puzzle of creating new voting maps in light of the 2020 census was a divisive process that began in August last year. Hearings dragged out through the winter with multiple plans drawn and discarded. Then with less than two hours before the Legislative session was scheduled to end by law, the state senate rushed to adopt the 62/31 plan finalized earlier in the day by the Joint Conference Committee. Based on the House bill, the plan expands the legislature by three seats, is out of deviation in Sheridan County and contains un-nested House and Senate seats. It drew opposition from both sides of the aisle in the waning hours of the budget session. Senate minority Leader Chris Rothfuss called it unconstitutional.
Governor Gordon, responding to a question from Bigfoot 99 the Monday after the legislature adjourned, said he was generally satisfied with the plan the legislature produced even though it came down to the wire.
One of the guiding legal guidelines in redistricting the state was to craft a plan that is legally defensible. Adhering to the constitutional principle of “One person, one vote” was the prime directive. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that that “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.”
To achieve the goal of each vote being of equal mathematical measure, courts have found that the maximum population deviation between the smallest and the largest district must be within 10% of each other. The legislature’s plan allows Johnson and Sheridan Counties to be out of deviation. Bigfoot 99 asked the governor if he feels the plan can stand up to a potential lawsuit.
Another issue with the plan is that it has residents of Clearmont in Sheridan County voting in Johnson County. The governor said that redrawing the statewide voting maps in light of a decade of population shifts in Wyoming was “a hard nut to crack.” He said residents of Clearmont that he had talked to thought that lawmakers had found the correct balance.
Governor Gordon also questioned the accuracy of the census. The head-counting took place at the height of the Covid scare in 2020. The country itself changed as local governments across the country reacted differently to the pandemic, and people began leaving congested urban areas to work remotely or find new opportunities in Wyoming. What the U.S. Census says is Wyoming’s population, and what it actually is likely are different, the Governor said.
Some towns and counties in Wyoming are looking to challenge the official census. According to the language in the bill, it became law immediately upon the governor allowing it to move forward without veto as provided by Article 4, Section 8 of the Wyoming Constitution.