Sometimes the most boring issues are the most important to our lives, communities and states. One of those is the topic of redistricting, which is done every 10 years after the census. The reason it’s boring is because it’s complicated, and the rules governing it are different in different states.
Its original purpose was to be sure every legislative and congressional voting district was composed of an equal, or as equal as possible, number of people; in other words, to make sure every district has a fair amount of representation when it comes to local, state and national elections. It was also expected that the newly drawn lines would form compact districts whose boundary lines were contiguous.
Today, in 25 states, the job of redrawing the maps is done by state legislatures and, in Wisconsin and some others, the maps have to be approved by their governors. In other states, like Iowa, non-partisan commissions re-draw the maps. Often, in states where the maps are drawn by the legislatures, the lines are skewed to guarantee that the party that has the majority in the legislature is guaranteed to keep that majority. That’s called gerrymandering.
They do this by zigzagging the boundaries to dilute the influence of voters from the other party. Democrats have done it in states like Maryland where a federal judge said one of its district’s boundaries looked like “blood spatter at a crime scene.” In other states like Wisconsin after the 2010 census, Republicans did the same, with district lines going in and out in many directions to favor their party. In 2010, under Gov. Scott Walker, they spent more than a half-million taxpayer dollars to hire a law firm to draw the maps.
That’s why, since then, even though Democratic voters are a majority in Wisconsin, Republicans have kept their majority in the state legislature. The results of their actions are described in a Feb. 4, 2013, article by The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, “Wisconsin was one of five states where the party that won more than half of the votes for Congress got fewer than half of the seats. Largely because of redistricting, Republicans in Wisconsin received just 49 percent of the 2.9 million votes cast in the state’s congressional races, but won five out of eight seats, or 62.5 percent. And that redistricting process was carried out with a nearly unprecedented level of secrecy and obfuscation.”
That kind of corruption needs to end on all levels. That’s why the federal “For the People Act,” which does just that, is necessary. It passed in the House, yet in the Senate, not one Republican senator supports it. It’s also, what Wisconsin’s Assembly Bill 395 would do here, which is also opposed by most Republican lawmakers. Those bills would require that the maps be drawn as originally intended, the same way they’re drawn so transparently, successfully and popularly in Iowa by a non-partisan commission.
But as early as last December and January, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu made contracts with two outside law firms to do the same dirty gerrymandering of districts this year as was done in 2010. The contracts allotted more than $1 million in taxpayer money to the firms to draw the maps and handle any lawsuits that come up.
Thankfully, Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled in April that the contracts are void because Vos and LeMahieu were not authorized to hire the firms. Full details of the ruling can be found in an April 29 Associated Press News article by Scott Bauer titled, “Judge rules against Wisconsin GOP in redistricting case.”
But, Vos and the GOP aren’t done. They’ve asked the conservative-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case and throw out Judge Ehlke’s ruling. The court accepted and we’re now awaiting the result. If the conservative justices put the people and integrity before party, the result will be a victory in favor of fair maps and fair representation.
But, if the court allows the GOP to hire law firms to draw gerrymandered maps, then more lawsuits will result and millions more taxpayer dollars will be wasted. Funny how GOP leaders don’t worry about fiscal responsibility when the money benefits them.
I’m not sure when Republican leaders decided that winning elections is more important than acting with honesty and integrity. The only thing that would teach them a lesson is if all voters with a conscience go to the polls and vote them out.
But we also need a federal law that bars gerrymandering in all states and reforms how campaigns are financed so ordinary people have as much influence as huge corporations and the ultra-rich. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.