RACINE COUNTY — Racine became the 41st county in Wisconsin to call for better voting district policies at the state level, aiming to prevent a practice known as “gerrymandering,” according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
After national attention and local pressure, the Racine County Board on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution calling for creation of a nonpartisan procedure that would help ensure fairness whenever districts are redrawn.
The County Board doesn’t have the power to change how voting districts are created, since election maps are approved by the state Legislature. Electoral maps in Wisconsin are only allowed to be changed every 10 years, when census data becomes available. However, the resolution — along with the other measures passed across the state — ideally will help pave the way for election reform in Wisconsin, supervisors said.
“For years, by both parties, (Wisconsin) has been gerrymandered,” Supervisor Janet Bernberg of Wind Point said. “Everyone is guilty of that. In this day and age, I think with the way that computers are used to be much fairer to have a nonpartisan group in charge of redistricting.”
Wisconsin in D.C.
Gerrymandering is the process by which legislators create election districts that specifically favor themselves by reducing the number of competitive districts and concentrating the opposing party’s voters to fewer areas, making opponents’ ballots less meaningful while amplifying supporters’ votes.
At each of the last two County Board meetings, multiple speakers encouraged supervisors to pass the Fair Maps Resolution that aims to prevent gerrymandering.
“Fair maps. Such a simple request. Fair. Nonpartisan,” one woman requested Tuesday, backed by about a dozen community members waving signs and maps in support of the “Fair Maps Movement.”
Wisconsin became the center of the debate in June 2017 when the Supreme Court heard a case filed by Wisconsin Democrats that alleged the GOP had redrawn election maps after taking control of the state assembly and senate in 2010 to specifically favor Republicans. It was the first time the Supreme Court heard a major gerrymandering case since 2003, when the court ruled that electoral map disputes should be largely left to the states to decide internally.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, a retired law professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison named Bill Whitford, published an article in Time Magazine entitled “Why Wisconsin is not a democracy.”
The Supreme Court didn’t make a definitive decision on the case last summer, leaving Wisconsin’s districts in place for the time being.
“I think that my voting rights were taken away by extreme gerrymandering that occurred in 2010,” John Scott, a retired political science teacher from Mount Pleasant, told the County Board Tuesday. “The Fair Maps Resolution will allow you to strike a blow for democracy.”
Voters in Lincoln County will be asked this November if they want legislators to create “less politically biased way to redraw voting districts for state and federal offices,” according to the Wausau Daily Herald. A similar referendum will be held in Sauk County.
State, local and national
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University of Law found that Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin Assembly despite winning only 48.6 percent of the two-party statewide vote in 2012 and that in 2014 they won 63 seats with only 52 percent of the statewide vote: “This is an odd outcome for a state like Wisconsin, where statewide elections are very close, and voters for both major parties are fairly evenly spread across the state.”
Earlier this year, Ohio became the 13th state to use a nonpartisan commission to draw its electoral map, rather than relying on elected officials directly.
Several Racine County advocates called for Wisconsin to adopt “The Iowa Model,” which uses the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency to draw maps; the LSA isn’t allowed to use any political data. Instead, the agency avoids breaking up cities and districts so that neighbors will be voting in the same districts, while also ensuring that districts are evenly populated. The Iowa Legislature still has to approve the maps, but doesn’t have a say in creating it.