Taylor Proposes Reforming County Redistricting
Aim is to "take politics out of it" and restore confidence in county board.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor wants to reform and depoliticize how county board districts are redistricted.
Taylor says he will introduce a county ordinance today that would create an independent panel of Milwaukee citizens that would decide how to draw the lines, but the results would still need to be approved by the board.
Taylor called the proposal a “common-sense” measure that would help restore faith in government and contribute to transparency. Taylor also believes the move would restore the confidence of voters in the county board, which has been the “epicenter of controversy” to many Milwaukee residents, as he puts it.
There is also a tide of negative sentiment washing over political redistricting after the state’s 2010 effort, Taylor says. The Republican-controlled legislature redistricted legislative and congressional districts, and was chastised by the courts for how it proceeded. The process, says Taylor, was lacking in transparency and smacked of corruption and gerrymandering. “The state was changing the rules as they went along,” he says.
County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. also recognizes a growing distrust among voters in the redistricting process. He says the greatest need for redistricting reform is at the state level where Wisconsin residents have seen “real abuses of power.” But he adds that, “I am open to Milwaukee County exploring options at the local level that could serve as an example statewide to ensure representation for all.”
The county board was criticized for how it handled redistricting in 2010. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Council of Milwaukee, made up of mayors and village presidents of all 19 Milwaukee County municipalities, denounced the plan and questioned its legality. “The current plan, as we see it now, is a sham,” said John Hermes, then the Greendale Village President.
Business leaders and others had called on supervisors to significantly reduce the size of the board. But the board instead eliminated just one district, that held by then-Supervisor Joe Rice, who had pushed for redistricting reform. Rice suffered what Taylor (who did not serve on the board then) says could possibly have been “vindictive” redistricting. Rice’s North Shore district was cleaved in two forcing him to run against another incumbent in order to retain his seat. Rice decided not to run.
Another point cited by Taylor as impetus for redistricting reform is the excessive cost to the taxpayers and the voter confusion. When Taylor went to vote in 2012, the latest round of state redistricting had drawn him into state Sen. Chris Larson’s district; however the polling station handed him a ballot for Sen. Mary Lazich’s district. It was an error that certainly could have been replicated with other voters, Taylor says. (In fact there were complaints of such confusion in various districts.) These types of changes create voter confusion and rack up extra costs for local governments, Taylor says. He notes that because of redistricting, Franklin has 36 different ballots. He believes his reform would correct some of these issues.
Milwaukee County is required by law to redistrict following the federal decennial census, which next comes in 2020. So Taylor’s ordinance would not affect Milwaukee County supervisory districts until 2022. He believes this time frame will allow for the passage of reforms, because current supervisors would be less threatened, as they may not be running in the 2022 election. This eliminates any urge his colleagues might have to protect the status quo, he believes: “There’s no self interest to protect.”
In his proposed ordinance, Taylor cites a survey conducted by the Minnesota League of Women Voters which found two-thirds of those surveyed favored de-politicizing the redistricting process in favor of an impartial and independent process.
The independent process Taylor has in mind involves a panel whose members would include a retired Milwaukee judge, a professor appointed by the Dean of the Marquette Law school, a Dean-appointed member from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Public Administration, and one representative each appointed by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League, the Public Policy Forum and the League of Women Voters and one appointee from a suburban municipality nominated by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council.
The aim of Taylor’s ordinance, he says, is to “take the politics out of it.” The redistricting process he has envisioned will still require approval from the County Board on any recommendations for redistricting the panel brings to them. The board will still have the opportunity to work with the panel and turn down any proposals they don’t like.