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State should follow Iowa on redistricting

State should follow Iowa on redistricting

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ANOTHER VIEW | WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL

The nation’s high court sounded skeptical last week about the constitutionality of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission.

Good thing Wisconsin didn’t follow Arizona’s model for encouraging fair voting district maps.

Instead, Wisconsin’s bipartisan reformers have patterned their good-government redistricting bill on neighboring Iowa.

“So we’re safe,” Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Thursday. “If anything, it shows we were wise to do this.”

The U.S. Supreme Court may strike down Arizona’s independent redistricting commission this summer if justices determine the U.S. Constitution forbids state voters from taking away the power of elected state legislatures to decide how U.S. House members are elected, the Associated Press reported last week.

But the Iowa model, which Wisconsin seeks to mirror, doesn’t do that.

Iowa assigns the task of drawing its legislative and congressional districts after each major census to a nonpartisan state agency. The agency is required to draw the maps as contiguous as possible and without consideration for incumbents.

If the Iowa Legislature doesn’t like the agency-drawn maps, it can reject them. But lawmakers can’t amend the maps themselves, and they must explain what they don’t like.

The nonpartisan state agency then redrafts the lines of voting districts. If the Legislature still doesn’t like the maps, then lawmakers can reject them again and take over the task.

But that has never happened. In fact, Iowa’s Legislature approved the first version of the agency’s maps after the 2010 census with huge bipartisan majorities.

Republicans and Democrats alike in Iowa have praised this orderly process for discouraging gerrymandering and creating more competition for seats in the Statehouse and Congress.

Gerrymandering is when maps are contorted in odd shapes to protect incumbents and to help those in power stay there. That’s how Wisconsin’s process has played out. Voters get few choices because of little competition for seats. The GOP majority also has won more seats than statewide voting patterns otherwise would have allowed.

A group of mostly Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers just introduced Senate Bill 58, which mimics Iowa’s strong model for fair maps. It’s the same bill that was pushed by virtually every newspaper editorial board in the state last session.

Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, is a co-sponsor, and other Republicans have expressed interest. We encourage more in the majority party to join this honorable cause.

GOP leaders who resist even a public hearing on the issue should remember that 2020 will be a presidential year, when Democrats tend to do better. The Democrats could capture power and rig district maps to their favor.

The Iowa model prevents either party from playing partisan games with voting districts, while still allowing lawmakers the final say.

The Iowa model will stand — and should expand to Wisconsin — even if Arizona’s framework falls.

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