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Sauk County spring ballots may include redistricting question

Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo, right, has proposed a resolution to the Sauk County Board that would allow for a spring ballot question on redistricting reform.

News Republic file photo

Sauk County residents may have a chance this spring to tell state lawmakers exactly how they feel about partisan gerrymandering.

The Sauk County Board could decide in January whether a question should appear on April 3 election ballots asking whether Wisconsin should adopt a nonpartisan procedure for redrawing political boundaries.

“It would be a statement of fact from Sauk County voters,” said Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo, who has proposed the ballot initiative. “Not a poll, not an opinion, but hard fact that says (what) percentage of Sauk County voters wants an end to gerrymandering.”

Interim Sauk County Corporation Counsel Deb O’Rourke said she is drafting a resolution on the spring ballot initiative at Vedro’s request. It will be considered by the board’s five-person Executive and Legislative Committee during a meeting tentatively scheduled for Jan. 8.

If the resolution wins committee approval, the county board would consider its approval at a Jan. 16 meeting.

Gerrymandering involves the redrawing of political boundaries to favor one party or candidate over another. The party in control is able to manipulate election outcomes and cement its power by creating safe districts for certain candidates.

A lawsuit over the methods Wisconsin Republicans used to redraw political maps in 2011 is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal court ruled 2-1 last year that the process was so partisan that it violated the voting rights of Democrats.

A January county board vote may not only allow for the ballot question, but also could have a tangential impact on county board races this spring.

Each of the board’s 31 seats is up for grabs April 3, and votes from supervisors about whether to allow for the ballot measure may impact their success at the polls.

There already is some indication of which supervisors might support or oppose such a measure. The county board voted 21-7 in September in favor of a resolution — also brought forward by Vedro — that called on state lawmakers to enact nonpartisan redistricting reform.

Three of the seven county board members who voted against that resolution — Supervisors Andrea Lombard of Baraboo, Dennis Polivka of Spring Green and Henry Netzinger of Prairie du Sac — are facing challengers in the spring election. Another, Eric Peterson of Prairie du Sac, has resigned after moving from his district.

Three who opposed the resolution — Supervisors Craig Braunschweig of Reedsburg, Brian Peper of Loganville and Chuck Spencer of Baraboo — are seeking re-election and currently face no opposition as the Jan. 2 deadline to file candidacy papers looms.

Braunschweig said he voted against the measure because he’s not certain state Republicans did anything improper in 2011.

“I think it was within all the legal guidelines,” said Braunschweig, who was appointed by the county board chair last year to fill an unexpired term. “Republicans and Democrats do it.”

He said it’s not the county board’s place to concern itself with partisan issues, or to tell state lawmakers what to do.

Braunschweig said he’s not yet sure whether he would vote to allow a spring ballot initiative. He wants to read the resolution before he decides.

Vedro — a two-term incumbent who currently faces no opposition in the spring election — said the Sauk County spring ballot initiative would be a testing ground for similar measures statewide next fall. That election will feature a gubernatorial race, as well as numerous congressional and state legislative seats.

The idea, Vedro said, is to ensure that political candidates who would control the redistricting process after the next 10-year U.S. Census must take a position on non-partisan reform measures. Vedro said he is coordinating with several statewide organizations.

“Sauk County residents are going to have the ability to take the lead on transforming what has happened over the last eight years in Wisconsin,” Vedro said.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.