Op-Ed

GOP Should Support Nonpartisan Redistricting

A former Republican legislator calls on party members to end gerrymandering, reform process.

By - Jun 9th, 2016 11:26 am
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Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto.

Our state was, not so very long ago, heralded as a national model for clean, accountable legislative practices and very open government. Other states sought to emulate Wisconsin’s system of government.

We cannot say this today.

There are a number of reasons for this. But perhaps the current most notable reason is the unwillingness of our legislators to pass or even discuss reforming the process of redistricting of Wisconsin’s congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years after each federal decennial census.

There is an opportunity now for Republicans to join like-minded Democrats in support of an alternative method of redistricting following the 2020 Census. Iowa’s 36-year old law on redistricting is the model for Wisconsin.

Iowa does redistricting right and has since changing its system in 1981 to entrust the actual map-drawing of congressional and state legislative districts to its nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau. Iowa’s Legislative Services Bureau draws new district boundaries without regard to partisan political advantage.

If the redistricting legislation fails to pass in both houses of the Iowa Legislature without amendments two times, the lawmakers may then debate and amend the legislation as is done for any other legislation. So, the Legislature could conceivably ignore the maps drawn by the legislative bureau and draw partisan maps. But that has never happened in Iowa.

In the four redistricting processes since the Iowa law took effect in 1981, the Legislature has always passed the nonpartisan maps created by the bureau without ever having to take a third vote.

Most importantly, the citizens of Iowa have confidence in their redistricting process because the districts are drawn without regard to partisan political factors. The result is that there are more competitive state legislative and congressional elections in Iowa than in Wisconsin. Iowans feel that they have real choices in their elections.

The cost to Iowa taxpayers is negligible. There are no attorneys involved and the most significant extra expense in 2011 was the cost of transporting Legislative Services Bureau members to three mandated public hearings in different locations for public inspection and comment. Wisconsin’s recent redistricting effort cost taxpayers over $2 million to pay a pricey law firm to draw rigged district maps and for a number of lawsuits and court challenges.

When the Democrats controlled the Wisconsin Legislature in the past, they drew the same type of rigged maps, just as the Democrats did in 2011 in Illinois. When partisan politicians of whatever political stripe are left to decide congressional and legislative boundaries, they cannot resist the temptation to draw the lines to their advantage.

Members of Congress and the Wisconsin Legislature now choose their voters. It is supposed to be the other way around. Voters have virtually no say who represents them in Madison and Washington, D.C.

We can do better.

Nonpartisan redistricting reform is supported by an overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters as shown by the results of several county referendums on the subject.

Republicans and Democrats should not again delay the enactment of new redistricting laws in Wisconsin. Reform legislation modeled after Iowa’s system has been introduced with bipartisan support every session since 2011. Similar legislation will very likely be introduced in early 2017.

Legislators of both political parties should join together and announce that support during this important election year.

David O. Martin served in the Wisconsin Assembly from 1961 to 1971 representing Neenah as a Republican. He was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to serve on the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

18 thoughts on “Op-Ed: GOP Should Support Nonpartisan Redistricting”

  1. happyjack27 says:

    “…Most importantly, the citizens of Iowa have confidence in their redistricting process because the districts are drawn without regard to partisan political factors”

    That’s like saying the passengers have confidence in their driver not running over pedestrians because the driver is blind.

    Personally I feel safer with a driver that can see the road.

    It’s well known that democrats naturally pack themselves into cities, producing a Republican gerrymander.

    Ignoring the data prevents you from being able to reverse that gerrymander. So basically adopting the Iowa model would be making a Republican gerrymander required by law!

    Here are the results of a compactness-only algorithm, similiar to the Iowa model (which is a county-splits only algorithm). On the right side are the current districts:

    http://autoredistrict.org/all50/version3/CD_PRES/single_state_embeddable_compare2.php?source=CD_BD&source2=CD_2010&mode=map_district_partisan_packing_mean&unit=district&count=%2E&state=Wisconsin

    As you can see, geometry-only apporaches result in a pro-Republican partisan gerrymander. (Though not nearly as bad as the current gerrymander.) The blind driver failed this driving test.

    “…When the Democrats controlled the Wisconsin Legislature in the past, they drew the same type of rigged maps, ”

    Evidence, please! I have not seen a single Wisconsin congressional or state legislative map that favored Democrats. And I’m pretty sure the rather extensive research done in Whitford vs. Nichols didn’t find any significant pro-Dem bias, either.

    “…just as the Democrats did in 2011 in Illinois. ”

    The 2011 Illinios districts have a slight Republican bias. Not as bad as 2000, though. Looks like on the contrary Democrats did a good job of _removing_ gerrymandering.

    http://autoredistrict.org/all50/version3/CD_PRES/single_state_embeddable_compare2.php?source=CD_2010&source2=CD_2000&mode=map_district_partisan_packing&unit=density&count=%2E&state=Illinois

  2. happyjack27 says:

    Ah, here it is: http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/01/26/murphys-law-the-myth-of-democratic-gerrymandering/

    “The state’s highest Democratic efficiency gap since 1972 was just 2 percent in 1994, Jackman found.”

    So, fact-checking result for “When the Democrats controlled the Wisconsin Legislature in the past, they drew the same type of rigged maps, ”: Pants on Fire.

  3. joe says:

    Happyjack, you sound like you’d only be satisfied by an outcome-driven approach. Like it or not, without regard to district, 1.2M people voted Republican in Wisconsin’s last congressional races compared to 1.1M for Democrats. (52%-46%). If a neutral, population-driven approach may have still resulted in a seat swing toward Republicans – that is not an “automatic gerrymander” that is “people getting more votes winning.”

    democrats naturally pack themselves into cities, producing a Republican gerrymander.

    On a purely population-based district model, urban vs. rural wouldn’t matter. The same number of people could be placed in every district regardless of where they live. How in god’s name is that a Republican gerrymander?

  4. happyjack27 says:

    i’ve already explained these things, joe. if you’re not going to listen then three’s no point in me repeating. go back and read for comprehension and you’ll find your answers. (the other article, too.)

  5. Joe says:

    We didn’t discuss any of that yesterday. Nice escape hatch from any substantive discussion though.

  6. happyjack27 says:

    i will add this to aid in comprehension: a proper metric of gerrymandering is independant of uniform partisan swing. there are two ways to construct such a measure: look at the entire seats-votes curve, or mean-center the vote counts, thus removing partisan swing.

  7. happyjack27 says:

    From yesterday:

    There are two different measures of partisan gerrymandering presented there (not counting the map) – the seats/votes curve, and a packing/cracking pie chart.

    You can read more about how to read a seats-votes curve here: http://autoredistrict.org/news.php#measure
    And you can read more about how to read the packing/cracking charts here: http://autoredistrict.org/news.php#mcwavp

    They both show the same phenomenon: democratic votes were packed more than republican votes.

    Democrats got more seats than votes because of the natural multiplying effect of single-winner elections, which you can read about here: http://autoredistrict.org/news.php#math_gerrymander But as you can see by the seats-votes curve, if the votes were flipped, republicans would have a bigger advantage than democrats do now. If the seats-votes cuve was symmetric (no gerrymandering), democrats would have picked up a few more seats.

  8. Virginia Small says:

    We have another tool for using neutral programming to assist with redistricting. It has been written about in Urban Milwaukee by Kevin Baas who created the program and evaluated by Bruce Thomspon at this link:

    http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/01/06/data-wonk-can-new-approach-end-gerrymandering/

    The big question is whether politicians of both parties will be willing to vote for fair, impartial redistricting.

  9. Joe says:

    7 – None of that is a response to my comment, but thanks for reposting from yesterday, I’m sure someone will find it interesting.

  10. happyjack27 says:

    You said that is not an “automatic gerrymander” that is “people getting more votes winning.”

    I said yesterday — and now reiterated again *twice* today — that when you use a proper metric to measure gerrymandering, the measure does not rise or fall when people get more or fewer votes.

    So when you say a score that’s independent of partisan swing – of “people getting more votes winning” is where it’s at because of “people getting more votes winning”, I can only surmise that you still haven’t grasped the concept that the metrics are independent of partisan swing.

  11. Joe says:

    “when you use a proper metric to measure gerrymandering, the measure does not rise or fall when people get more or fewer votes”

    I never said it does.

    And when you say “democrats naturally pack themselves into cities, producing a Republican gerrymander,” I can only surmise that you still haven’t grasped the concept that population-based redistricting would solve that problem.

  12. happyjack27 says:

    That’s a rather odd extrapolation because most people would interpret me saying that “Population-based redistricting”, whatever that means, would NOT solve the problem, as meaning that I’ve grasped the concept that “Population-based redistricting”, whatever that means, would NOT solve the problem.

    I don’t know how to say this politely so I’ll just be out with it: you seem to know a lot less than you think you do, and still somehow think others know even less than that. You would benefit from some humility and a greater respect for and higher expectations of others.

    And also, more particularly, you could benefit from doing a lot more research on this subject before taking the pompous and offensive stance of thinking you know everything and nobody else knows anything. Making yourself a shining example of the Dunning-Kruger effect http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

    And you can start here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jowei/florida.pdf

    But I’m sure you’re way smarter than those academics and they’re just interpreting the data wrong. And after all, they haven’t heard of “Population-based redistricting”,

  13. happyjack27 says:

    in case my last comment didn’t post:

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jowei/florida.pdf

  14. happyjack27 says:

    wait, by “population-based redistricting” are you trying to say a single at large multi-member district for each state (no redistricting at all)?

    yeah, that would not be gerrymandering.

    Multi-member districts are a great solution to gerrymandering. But going to the extreme of one at large in every state is not without its drawbacks. If you do multiple multi-member districts, you can get a sort of mix of both and still mostly solve gerrymandering. there’s a non-profit organization pushing for this: fairvote.org it only takes 3-5 members per district to be effective. But that doesn’t rule out combining that with heuristic optimization and gerrymandering metrics to draw those districts.

  15. Joe says:

    When I said population-based redistricting I was referring to the Iowa model, where population size is the primary metric, and other factors (race, voting patterns, etc.) which are typically used to accomplish gerrymandering are ignored.

    What method would you like to see used in Wisconsin? You seem to have a lot of background on this issue and I’m interested in your opinion (seriously)

  16. happyjack27 says:

    Equal population districts have been constitutional law since 1972. The Iowa model’s primary metric is minimal county splits. (And split highest population counties first.) So it’s a geometry-only approach and more broadly a “naive” or “blind” approach, in that it prohibits use of the data needed to detect unfairness.

    It doesn’t prevent gerrymander it only prohibits people drawing maps from detecting it. Then later after the maps are drawn, citizens can detect the gerrymander and the state can be sued at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

    I think I made my feelings on blind approaches pretty clear with my blind driver analogy. I’d rather get in the car with a driver who can see than one who can’t. At the very least it saves on legal fees.

    I think the whole “blind is better” myth is based on the false idea that “blind” is neutral, or that using geometry only is a non-criteria; doesn’t produce a systemic bias.
    A truly “random” redistricting would look like static on a TV screen, and yeah, that would be statistically neutral as it would be a homogenous mix of voters. But enforcing just the simple rules of
    “contiguous” and “compact” (or few county splits) does not preserve homogenity and thus CANNOT be presumed to have a neutral effect. You’re “binning” (voters) something in a structured way. Every time you “bin” something in a structured way it produces systemic biases as a side-effect.

    So enough with the preamble…

    Prong 1) explicit optimization (minimization of gerrymandering, maximization of competitiveness, etc.)
    * First and foremost _use voting patterns_, and use mathematically sound (statistically independent of partisan swing, no type 1 or type 2 errors, etc.) methods to measure the amount of partisan and racial gerrymandering.
    * And have an official law to require that those score be low (or high, depending. optimal.).

    Prong 2) citizen verifiability
    * Publically publish the data and the maps in standard formats
    * And the algorithms for measuring gerrymandering, for public review
    * And open source tools to apply those algorithms so that the public can verify that the maps do indeed have low gerrymandering scores.

    Prong 3) justiciability / accountability
    * Map drawers must be fully informed of the partisan and racial effects of the maps, and the existense of fairer alternatives. Thus making any question of “intent” unambiguous – knowledge of a superior alternative demonstrates intent.
    * Since requiring bad maps to be redrawn is Remedial as opposed to Punitive, the prosecution in a lawsuit should not have to show intent. The defense will not be harmed by a guilty verdict.
    * Prosecution would only have to demonstrate significantly superior alternatives, using only raw data that was available at the time the maps were originally drawn. (This of course would be balanced against the cost of redrawing.)

    Magical solution) multi-member districts
    * And yes, multi-member districts are ideal. They are utterly magical in their ability to end gerrymandering, among other things.
    * This should be coupled with a mathematically sound counting algorithm. Such as a Hare-quota STV.

    It seems to me that once you establish prong 1, you can have a computer do an automatic heuristic search (possibly under additional constraints) to optimize the districts.

  17. Joe says:

    ” I’d rather get in the car with a driver who can see than one who can’t.

    If they end up driving to the same place is there a difference? In fact I’d rather arrive at a gerrymander by accident than on purpose; at least the former had better intentions.

    At the very least it saves on legal fees.

    Really? My understanding was that Iowa pays very little in legal fees compared to states that have to entertain constant litigation over their intentionally gerrymandered districts.

    I agree that MMDs are preferable over other solutions, even though the party list style feels like watered-down democracy to me.

  18. happyjack27 says:

    “If they end up driving to the same place is there a difference?”

    Fewer causalties.

    “In fact I’d rather arrive at a gerrymander by accident than on purpose;”

    That’s not the dichotomy here – the dichotomy is purposively avoiding a gerrymander or gerrymandering “by accident”.

    I’d rather not have a gerrymander than have one, deliberate or not.

    ” at least the former had better intentions.”

    The former’s intentions were to do a Republican gerrymander. Geometry-only approaches systemically favor Republicans. and by favor I mean produce gerrymanders.

    If the person is not aware of this, they should be made aware of it so that they can make better choices.

    If they are away of it, and they do it, then their intentions are to produce a Republican gerrymander.

    That is not “better intentions”. That is deliberately suppressing voting power based on political preferences.

    “Really? My understanding was that Iowa pays very little in legal fees compared to states that have to entertain constant litigation over their intentionally gerrymandered districts.”

    Iowa is a single sample with it’s own unique characteristics. It is not reflective of the general case or rule. To examine the general case one needs to either reason from first principles (as I have done), or do a more comprehensive study.

    To do that you can simulate a number of results on one state, like these people have done: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jowei/florida.pdf

    Or do a longitutional study – that is, analyze the consequences for each state, like so: http://autoredistrict.org/all50/version3/CD_PRES/fv_interactive_map3.php?source1=CD_BD&mode=map_district_votes&unit=district

    BOTH approaches empirically confirm what can be deduced theoretically: that geometry-only redistricting methods such as the Iowa model produce Pro-Republican partisan gerrymanders (though not in Iowa).

    Presumably some citizens in these gerrymandered states would be smart enough to file suit.

    “…even though the party list style feels like watered-down democracy to me.”

    There are other ways to count MMD votes besides party-list. For instance, single-transferable-vote.

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