The Sauk County Board approved a resolution Tuesday that urges state lawmakers to create a nonpartisan procedure for redrawing political boundaries.
The board voted 21-7 in favor of the recommendation, and a copy will be sent to the governor, state Legislature, Wisconsin Counties Association, Towns Association, League of Municipalities and each county within the state. The action is nonbinding.
Supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo brought the resolution before the board’s Executive and Legislative Committee earlier this month. Vedro said the current partisan redistricting process used by Wisconsin lawmakers allows politicians to pick their voters, instead of allowing voters to choose their representatives.
“I encourage all of my colleagues to recognize that it is essential that citizens elect their representatives — not having the current status of gerrymandering, which allows representatives to select their citizens,” he said.
A federal court ruled 2-1 last year that the process used by state Republicans to redraw district maps in 2011 were so partisan that they violated Democrats’ voting rights. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June, and oral arguments will 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 Sunday in Wisconsin Dells.
Several board members were skeptical of the resolution, claiming it would be impossible to eliminate partisanship from the redistricting process because of inherent political leanings. Supervisor Dennis Polivka of Reedsburg said he believes there is “no such thing as a fair system” and labeled alternative methods for redistricting as “more bureaucracy.”
“This resolution, you can call it what you want, it is partisan,” he said. “Would I like to see it cleaned up – yeah, there’s no question about it, but this is a very partisan issue, and I will not go against taking up a partisan stance.”
Several board members who supported the resolution referred to the Iowa model for redistricting as a possible blueprint for creating a nonpartisan process in Wisconsin. The Iowa model tasks an appointed commission with redrawing political boundaries.
Proponents of the say safeguards are built into the process to prevent biases from influencing voter maps. The panel must follow criteria written into the law that prevents it from redrawing district maps in favor of one party.
Supervisor John Deitrich of Reedsburg said a portion of the resolution that was proposed by board chair Marty Krueger of Reedsburg gained his support. Krueger suggested the Legislature allow local governments to “produce and provide their numbers, wards and district information” before beginning work on state maps.
“I hear two choirs singing, and normally I would sing with the choir on the right on this one, but I won’t be doing that tonight,” Deitrich said. “The biggest reason I won’t be doing that is because of the chairman’s amendment for the legislature to wait for us to draw our lines.”
Local governments traditionally have completed redistricting before the Legislature begins its work. However, state Republicans reversed that course of action prior to the controversial process they undertook in 2011.
“The element of local government going first is elementary to me in having a good process, no matter how nonpartisan or partisan it is,” Krueger said.
In other business, the board:
- Approved a resolution commending Todd Liebman for more than 23 years of county service
- Approved a resolution approving 2018-2028 Sauk County land and water resource management plan
- Approved an ordinance changing the supervisory district boundary line between district 14 and 21
- Approved an ordinance authorizing ATV/UTV routes in Sauk County
- Approved a resolution establishing 2018, 2019 and 2020 health insurance program for Sauk County
- Approved a resolution accepting bids on tax-delinquent real estate acquired by Sauk County