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Fair Redistricting Maps: What They Are And Why We Need Them

 

April 11, 2019



Dear Editor,

In future legislative elections your vote will be counted, but will it count? The answer in part depends on how the Legislative and Congressional redistricting maps are drawn up after the 2020 US Census. By Wisconsin law, this job goes to the State Legislature.

In the past, the party in power at the time the maps were redrawn, Republican or Democrat, did so in a way to help it stay in power through a process known as gerrymandering. Data such as political affiliation of registered voters and previous election results are used to create districts that are “packed” or “cracked.” “Packing” is concentrating opposition party voters together into one district, which already has a majority of such voters, in order to reduce their voting power in surrounding districts. “Cracking” is spreading opposition party voters across multiple districts to dilute their voting power in each district.

In 2011, the current gerrymandered redistricting maps were drawn up behind closed doors by a Madison law firm hired by the Republican legislature at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $1.9 million. Because of extreme gerrymandering, these maps have been the subject of multiple federal court challenges costing taxpayers an additional $3.5 million in legal fees. And what did all this money buy us? A legislative map full of odd shaped districts that split counties into multiple assembly districts, a map that in 2018 helped Republicans win 64% of legislative seats while only winning 46% of legislative votes cast and losing the governor’s office.

If you think there has to be a better way to redistrict, you are right, and only need to look to our neighbor Iowa to find an example of a model Fair Maps redistricting plan: maps are created by a non-partisan commission that is prohibited from using political data in drawing district lines. They must follow a set of criteria developed to avoid irregular shaped districts and splintering counties and cities into different districts. And how much did Iowans pay for their redistricting plan in 2011? Only $180,000, including the cost of hearings to elicit public comments.

The time has come for reforming the redistricting process in Wisconsin. A recent Marquette Law School poll found that 72% of Wisconsin voters want a nonpartisan commission to draw up the next legislative and congressional maps. So far, 42 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed resolutions supporting the creation of a nonpartisan procedure, similar to the Iowa model, for drawing these maps. And although in the past the Democratic party has been as guilty as the Republican party of gerrymandering, we are fortunate that Governor Evers supports a nonpartisan redistricting process and can exercise his veto power if the legislature comes up with another gerrymandered map. If the governor and legislature cannot come to a compromise, a federal court will draw up the map. In a democracy all votes should count. Voters should select their representatives, not the other way around. Elections should be won on the campaign trail, not on the map drawing table. Google “gerrymandering” or “Fair Maps” to better inform yourself about this issue and what you can do to help make Wisconsin a Fair Maps state.

Allen Pincus,

Barneveld

 
 

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