Letter to the Editor: Wisconsin Redistricting

A major goal of the League of Women Voters of Door County is to promote an open government, one that is representative, accountable, responsive and capable of making decisions. The existing redistricting process in Wisconsin does not promote this type of system and must be changed.

Partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering, has created a political reality that is the opposite of a democracy. Our current system allows the party in power (Democratic or Republican) to draw unfair districts in which politicians pick their voters rather than the voters picking them.

This is nothing new. The practice was first named in the Boston Gazette in 1812 after it was used under Governor Elbridge Gerry. Gerrymandering in extreme cases (like Wisconsin in 2011) can result in one party gaining more actual votes than the other while winning fewer seats in the election.

Modern computer software makes gerrymandering more effective. The voting history of residents is used to carve up districts, resulting in strange, jagged-looking electoral maps. Neighborhoods and suburbs can be dissected and splintered to favor a certain candidate. Huge populations of people from either party can be packed into a single district, or small communities can be sliced and diced into multiple districts. The result is the same: Less competition, less representation, wasted votes, and a discouraged electorate. Gerrymandering has been called “the most fun (politically) you can have without breaking the law.”

Recently, a federal court ruled that Wisconsin must redo its electoral map by Nov. 1, 2017. Analysis of the 2011 redistricting found that the resulting electoral map unfairly favored Republicans who gained control of the state government in 2010. It’s vital to remember, however, that Wisconsin has not passed redistricting plans without significant and expensive court involvement in at least 70 years – under governors and legislatures of both political parties. This problem deserves a nonpartisan fix.

Wisconsin now has the opportunity to do it over and do it right. Gerrymandering has for too long been an underhanded way of cheating citizens out of true representation. It essentially makes some votes count more than others.

It is not enough to simply redo the maps. The process needs to be changed entirely. We should follow in the footsteps of states that have developed nonpartisan entities to create electoral maps. Iowa uses their Legislative Services Bureau. They created clear criteria as to how to the draw the lines, to focus on keeping geographical entities like cities and counties together. This approach works. It is cheaper and fairer, and Iowa’s districts are some of the most competitive in the country. Competitive districts encourage new candidates to run and force leaders to better represent its citizens because they are more vulnerable to lose their positions if they don’t.

A plan in which the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau would draw the maps has been introduced into the legislature. Communicate with your representatives! Let them know that you support these two bills: AB 44 and SB 13. Ask them to tell Senator Fitzgerald and Representative Vos that these bills deserve a hearing. Let them know that this costly problem needs to be fixed now!

Seth Wiederanders and the Board of the League of Women Voters of Door County

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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