Gerrymandering: The Problem
Gerrymandering is one of the chief causes of the caustic hyper-partisan divide plaguing our democracy at both the national and state levels. After each 10-year census, the legislative district lines are redrawn. Gerrymandering is the act of redrawing those lines in ways that favor one party. Gerrymandering results in the governing party becoming successful by razor thin margins in districts that were formerly controlled by the opposition, and in “wasting” large numbers of opposition voters by crowding them into districts they already control.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is achieved primarily by the governing party “packing” or “cracking” members of the opposition party. “Packing” consists of redrawing district lines so as to include as many members of the opposition party in districts in which they already have a majority, resulting in diluting the opposition party’s strength in the surrounding districts, while strengthening the governing party in those districts. “Cracking” consists of splitting up the opposition voters in a particular district, and assigning them to one or more other districts, so as to reduce their numbers within that particular district, thereby strengthening the governing party in that district.
When most of us think about a democracy, we think of a system in which voters choose their representatives. Gerrymandering enables politicians to choose their own voters. In effect, it decreases the weight of an opposition party member’s vote, while increasing that of its own members’, resulting in a less representative electoral system. This is not how democracy is supposed to work.
The Search for a Solution
Americans are upset about gerrymandering, and there is now a growing nation-wide movement to put the redrawing of voting maps into the hands of nonpartisan commissions. Last November, four states had referendums and voted overwhelmingly in support of establishing nonpartisan redistricting commissions, bringing the number of states that have now established nonpartisan commissions to 20.
Wisconsinites, too, are overwhelmingly in support such an approach. The January 2019 Marquette Law School Survey found 72% of Wisconsinites prefer having a nonpartisan commission—rather than the legislature—to do the redistricting. There is overwhelming bipartisan support of this measure, ranging from 63% among Republicans to 83% among Democrats.
In addition, a majority of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have now taken some type of action to encourage State officials to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting commission. In 48 (67%) of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, County Boards of Supervisors have passed resolutions endorsing the adoption of a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Door County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed such a resolution (Resolution Number 2014-05) on March 25, 2014.
Eight counties and one township have gone a step further, by taking a referendum to the voters and asking them directly if they would prefer having such a commission. All nine of the referendums passed resoundingly, with between 62% and 85% voting in favor. To date, Door County has not had a referendum on whether or not to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
But while county boards and voters can make their desires known through these resolutions and referendums, only State representatives in the legislature have the power to make a nonpartisan redistricting commission the law in Wisconsin.
On June 20, 2019 two bills calling for the formation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission were introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature as Assembly Bill 303 (https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/proposals/ab303) and Senate Bill 288 (https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/proposals/sb288). The Assembly bill has bipartisan support, and Representative Joel Kitchens has co-sponsored it. Both bills seek to make the redistricting process more transparent and more representative by insulating it from politics. Both bills adopt a Redistricting Advisory Commission very similar to the model Iowa adopted more than 35 years ago, which has served that state well. (See: http://www.ncsl.org/research/redistricting/the-iowa-model-for-redistricting.aspx.)
Both bills are still in committee and neither, as of yet, has a hearing scheduled. We urge you to call, write or email Representative Kitchens to express your support for the bills. His contact information is available at: (https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/legislators/assembly/1795). We encourage you to also call, write or email the chairmen of the committees which oversee the bills, and who must schedule a hearing for the bills so that the bills do not languish and die before becoming law. Write them and urge them to schedule a hearing for the bills. The Senate bill is in the Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection chaired by Duey Stroebel. (His contact information is available at: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/legislators/senate/1919). The House bill is in the Committee on Campaigns and Elections chaired by Representative Ron Tusler. (His contact information is at: (https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2019/legislators/assembly/1797).
Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to Speak
On Wednesday, November 13, Matt Rothchild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC), will speak on gerrymandering at the Kress Pavilion in Egg Harbor at 6:30pm.
Founded in 1995, WDC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group dedicated to clean government, where people matter more than money. WDC tracks money in politics and makes that information available on its open-access, public database at: https://www.wisdc.org/follow-the-money/campaign-finance-database. WDC writes about issues of money and politics on its website, it works with media to educate the public, and advocates for campaign finance reform and other policies that will make real the promise of democracy.
WDC’s mission statement states: “We are dedicated to clean and open government and a full democracy, where everyone has an equal voice… We advocate for transparency and for reforms that level the electoral playing field. We defend our civil rights and liberties. We offer a vision of a democracy with equal participation, racial equity, and economic justice.”
Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign in 2015, Mr. Rothschild worked at The Progressive magazine. He was the editor and publisher for most of the 32 years he worked at The Progressive. He has written two books and published numerous opinion pieces in the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, the Miami Herald and a host of other newspapers.
Wisconsin has long had a national reputation for transparent, fair and good governance. The severe gerrymandering of 2011 has undermined that reputation. Now we Wisconsinites have an opportunity to restore our reputation and the representativeness of our democracy. Come hear Matt Rothschild and join the discussion.
Door County Fair Maps Task Force