As the nation’s highest court prepares to hear a case that found Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting process to be unconstitutional, the Sauk County Board may weigh in on the issue.
Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo has proposed a resolution that would encourage state lawmakers to create a nonpartisan procedure for redrawing political boundaries.
The board’s five-person Executive and Legislative Committee will consider the proposal during a meeting Tuesday morning. If the committee approves it, the resolution would then be considered by the full board later this month.
Vedro said partisan redistricting — such as the process used by Wisconsin lawmakers — is flawed, because it allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than the other way around.
“So you get skewed results that are anything but democratic,” Vedro said. “And those have serious repercussions on how government is run. So it’s a critically important issue.”
Vedro also is working with the local chapter of a national political movement spawned by supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The local group, part of Our Wisconsin Revolution, is seeking signatures in support of an advisory referendum on redistricting reform.
A federal court ruled 2-1 last year that methods used by state Republicans to redraw district maps in 2011 were so partisan that they violated Democrats’ voting rights. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and oral arguments are slated to begin in October.
More than 20 county boards throughout Wisconsin, including those in Milwaukee and Dane counties, have passed resolutions encouraging lawmakers to enact reforms that would make the process less partisan. The Wisconsin Counties Association may consider a similar resolution at its annual conference Sept. 24 in Wisconsin Dells.
Supervisor David Moore of Wisconsin Dells, who ran for a Wisconsin Assembly seat as a Republican in 2016, said he’s not convinced that the process followed in Wisconsin was as secretive and sinister as has been alleged. He also doubts that handing redistricting responsibilities over to an independent panel would eliminate partisanship.
“The truth of the matter is that everyone has some sort of built in preconceived notions or biases,” Moore said, adding that he won’t take a position on Vedro’s proposed resolution until he’s had a chance to review it.
Reform proponents have suggested that Wisconsin adopt a redistricting process similar to one used in Iowa — in which a nonpartisan agency works with an independent commission to redraw political boundaries, which are then considered by state lawmakers.
Jay Heck, director of Common Cause of Wisconsin, said although it’s true that no person is entirely nonpartisan, the Iowa model includes safeguards to prevent politics from seeping into the process.
“With a state agency drawing the maps, there’s a set of criteria that they have to abide by,” Heck said. “And that criteria is written into the law.”
He said the redistricting that took place in 2011 has made roughly 90 percent of Wisconsin’s Assembly districts noncompetitive — meaning the winner garnered more than 55 percent of the vote. That deters moderate candidates, Heck said, and leads to a fractured, polarized political system.
He said critics of redistricting reform often point out that Democrats likely would have done the same thing if they had held all the levers of power in 2011.
“I’m not going to argue with that,” Heck said. “I think it’s fair to say they probably would have. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for voters.”
In other business, the board’s executive and legislative committee is scheduled to consider the following items:
- Appointing Sauk County Principal Assistant Corporation Counsel Debra O’Rourke to serve as the county’s interim chief legal counsel as officials seek a replacement for retiring Corporation Counsel Todd Liebman.
- The possible recommendation of resolutions referred to the Wisconsin Counties Association by other county boards.
- A resolution that would change the border between county supervisory district 14 in the city of Baraboo and district 21 in the town of Baraboo. The change resulted from a recent city-approved annexation that moved property including two homes and three people from the town to the city.