It’s Time for Fair Maps in Wisconsin

In my freshman term, I cosponsored legislation to end gerrymandering. Here’s why:

"Western Wauwatosa — yes (more GOP)"

"West Milwaukee — No (forgot to mention this part of current district — VERY Dem"

"Milwaukee — cop wards if needed."

These are lines from an email sent by Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir during the 2011 redistricting of Wisconsin’s legislative maps. In it, she requests that parts of her district which lean Democratic be cut out while more Republican wards be added to help her chances at the polls. In 2012, Speaker Robin Vos admitted to the press that “People will naturally choose the [map] that will give them an advantage at the ballot box.”

Speaker Vos is right about that. That’s why we need to pass nonpartisan redistricting reforms in Wisconsin so that no party can rig the maps in its favor.

Fundamental among American values is the concept that voters ought to choose who represents them in government. And yet, in Wisconsin we have a very different system. Instead of voters selecting their legislators, we have legislators picking and choosing who they want to represent in Madison, all with the goal of easy reelection.

After the census is conducted every 10 years, the state legislature redraws its Assembly and Senate districts to reflect changes in population. Through the practice of what is known as “gerrymandering,” politicians can draw district maps to under-represent areas where a political party is stronger.

Currently, a bipartisan bill is in the legislature that would implement the Iowa model of redistricting, which was enacted there in 1980 by a Republican governor. This would charge the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau with drawing maps that satisfy criteria of fairness and equality, with oversight by a bipartisan committee chosen by legislators.

Gerrymandering is bad for democracy because it makes politicians accountable to voters of only one party. If the proportion of Republicans or Democrats in a district is skewed in the redistricting process, legislators will only cater to the views of their side. This makes bipartisan compromise in the legislature on key issues impossible to reach, and the result is further polarization and gridlock.

The district I have the honor of representing is one of the more competitive ones in the state. I don’t just represent Democrats; every time I go down to Madison, I fight for all residents of the 74th District. Sometimes, that means breaking from my party when I believe it’s best for the people in my district. But in more partisan districts, whether Republican or Democrat, legislators only really have to listen to their base supporters and their party to survive reelection.

Redistricting reform would go a long way towards restoring some common sense and civility in our state capital. It would make legislators accountable to all of their constituents, not just the ones they prefer. It would result in fairer elections, so that what happens in Madison actually lines up with what Wisconsinites want. Altogether, redistricting reform would be huge in restoring some health in our democracy. If you believe in nonpartisan redistricting for Wisconsin, call or email your legislator today and tell them to support Assembly Bill 303 and Senate Bill 288.