A few years ago Assembly Speaker Robin Vos spoke to the Madison Rotary Club and was asked when he would allow a public hearing for a proposal to create a nonpartisan redistricting process for Wisconsin. Although the bill has been introduced repeatedly, the people of our state have not had a chance to respond through testimony before a committee of lawmakers. Vos said he would consider allowing such a hearing if the Dane County Board ever reforms its own process for drawing voting maps.
The Dane County Board met that challenge in 2016 when it adopted a plan to create a nonpartisan, independent commission to propose supervisory district maps to the board for approval within the timeline required by the state. I was honored to serve this year on the newly created Dane County Redistricting Commission. County ordinance required us to actively seek public input, requiring that the commission provide "opportunities for the public to submit map proposals for consideration."
In addition, we were charged with drawing the districts without regard to incumbency. The idea behind the commission is that citizens, not sitting politicians, should draw the maps. That way we voters can choose our representatives, rather than the other way around.
On Oct. 14 the Dane County Board voted 32-2 to adopt a map proposed by the commission. Several of the supervisors noted they were not crazy about the chosen maps, but they admitted they might not have produced a better map themselves. Some said they were proud of Dane County’s new process and added that it’s high time for the state Legislature to adopt a similar model.
Unfortunately the voting maps state lawmakers are currently considering are the product of a highly partisan process the state Legislature has used for decades, a process made much worse in the 2011 go-round. Lawmakers should reject these voting maps, which have received a grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which cited the maps’ extreme partisan advantage, lack of competitiveness and incumbent advantage. These maps grossly amplify the problems of the 2011 maps, which were drawn in secret and gerrymandered to the point where they don’t produce election results that represent the will of the people.
A 2019 Marquette University poll found that 72% of respondents from across the political spectrum favored a nonpartisan process for redrawing voting maps. As many as 56 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have passed board resolutions or citizen referenda imploring the Legislature to adopt nonpartisan redistricting.
It is precisely because of gerrymandering that the sponsors of these bills can ignore these expressed wishes of the people. When politicians know they are safe in their rigged districts, they don’t have to fear consequences in the next election.
Although it is too late to reform the system before new voting maps have to be adopted, that is not an excuse for passing yet another gerrymander nor for delaying reform. Lawmakers should reject these maps for better ones. The People’s Maps Commission has done plenty of legwork and provided sound recommendations, eliminating the need to go back to the starting block and start over.
And after lawmakers adopt fair voting maps, they can do the right thing and establish a nonpartisan redistricting process for Wisconsin. The voters deserve nothing less.