Andrea Kaminski
Op Ed

Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps

Lawmakers should hold public hearings, create competitive districts serving the voters.

By - Feb 3rd, 2017 03:57 pm

How to Steal an election. Image by Steven Nass (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

How to Steal an election. Image by Steven Nass (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

A federal court has ordered the Wisconsin legislature to redraw voting districts in time for the 2018 elections. This is a victory for voters, who have been voting in gerrymandered districts that were ruled unconstitutional in November.

Although the court did not specify how the legislature should redraw the maps, the League of Women Voters urges lawmakers to choose a method that will minimize undue partisanship. The League filed a brief in the case offering possible ways to accomplish that.

The Wisconsin constitution gives the legislature the responsibility of redistricting, which takes place every ten years after the census. Unfortunately, when you have one-party rule, as was the case in Wisconsin in 2011, the majority party is able to “choose the voters” by drawing meandering district boundaries designed to include some voters and exclude others.

Of the nonpartisan redistricting methods we proposed, the most practical is the procedure followed successfully in Iowa, which has a similar constitutional provision. There, a nonpartisan legislative agency drafts the district maps for the legislature, which retains final responsibility for enacting (or rejecting) the proposed maps. The Wisconsin legislature could direct its Legislative Reference Bureau, the nonpartisan service agency which drafts all legislation, to create new maps. The agency would have to follow the usual districting criteria mandated by state and federal law, such as compactness, contiguity, respect for existing municipal boundaries, and non-dilution of minority voting power.

The plan should also provide for public input. Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency is advised by a nonpartisan commission and must hold at least three public hearings about the plan in different regions of the state and report on the hearings to the legislature. The legislature then brings the redistricting bill to a vote shortly after receiving the report. Only corrective amendments are allowed. If the initial plan is rejected, the agency must submit a second version within 35 days. Again, the legislature votes, with only corrective amendments allowed. There is plenty of time for such a process to take place in Wisconsin before the court-ordered deadline of November 1.

Since its creation in 1980, the Iowa process has operated smoothly and with the support of both parties. Each decade the legislature has enacted the first or second proposed plan. No plan has been challenged in court, saving Iowa tax payers millions of dollars in litigation fees.

Iowa’s plan has resulted in some of the most competitive districts in the nation, offering voters a choice of two or more viable candidates. In Wisconsin, none of our eight congressional districts is considered competitive, and Common Cause in Wisconsin reported in 2016 that just one in ten of our legislative districts could be considered competitive. That leads to uncontested elections and less choice for voters.

There are currently proposals before the Wisconsin legislature to adopt the Iowa plan. Lawmakers should do so this session. They also should apply the plan now to redraw the current, unconstitutional districts in a way that will give voters confidence that they are not being manipulated by politicians seeking an unfair partisan advantage.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. The League welcomes women and men across the state as members. With 18 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. Follow @LWV_WI on Twitter.

Categories: Politics

22 thoughts on “Op Ed: Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps”

  1. Patrick says:

    You do understand that as long as we have a political system based on geographical districts to determine our representatives that the system will favor the political side that does not concentrate its population into a very small geographical area? For example one of the few requirements of the districts are that they are to be drawn in closer chunks and not be politically influenced. Lets pretend Wisconsin, to make my point easier to explain, was slightly center of right in rural areas and almost all democratic votes were concentrated in the city of Milwaukee. Ignore Madison for the sake of the example. Are you really saying it would be just and proper for the legislature to draw the districts with a pinned center point somewhere in the city of Milwaukee and then having the boundaries of said districts radiate out outward throughout the rest of the state so as to make each district “politically” balanced? You don’t realize this but what you’re arguing for is that the legislature take politics into consideration when drawing the districts as opposed to what you think you’re arguing for which is taking political considerations out of it. Again the reason democrats run even or in some cases slightly ahead statewide with the total amount of votes cast and trail republicans substantially in seats held is because of the living behavior they CHOSE to have. It’s as simple as that. It’s part of the reason Republicans have won both statewide and nationally via the electoral college but trailed the popular vote. Democrats cluster with other likeminded people to a point where we have districts that run up vote totals of 90% democrat. You’re shooting yourself in the foot. This is the overwhelming cause of this “problem” and not actual Gerrymandering.

  2. John says:

    California and Arizona have gone to a bipartisan commission to work out redistricting and the results have been superb. Arizona, which had previously gerrymandered their districts in a partisan fashion, ended up with a more balanced split that favored Democrats more. Naturally the AZ Republicans took it to court and sued all the way to the Supreme Court and lost! So it is possible to have a fair redistricting process if both parties are really interested in working together to achieve districts which are as competitive as possible. Given the political climate in Wisconsin, however, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  3. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Sure, California’s is so good the left has super majorities. You expect people to believe that crap?

  4. Anne Golden says:

    Politicians should not have easy, un-contested races because of gerrymandering. Why would they even care about their constituents from the minority party in their district if they know they will always win? Let’s have a bipartisan group design boundaries that will encourage true competition and likely increase voter participation.

  5. Lori says:

    Breaking down the districts to be balanced on voting makes more sense. What parties do not realize is the current plan leaves smoldering anger on both sides. And this rage continues to grow.
    I reside in an assisted living with only 12 units. 9 people are over the age of 95. The rage I hear in them about the other party is scary. This has divided families and even who they speak to in our small facility.
    This is partly responsible by unbalanced districts, party stance, and media.
    Part of the problem that is easiest to fix is balanced districts. Each side will have more of an obligation to listen to the other side.

  6. Donna says:

    After Republicans gerrymandered WI Assembly seats in 2011:

    In 2012 with 51% of the vote, Democrats won just 39 of 99 seats.
    In 2014 with about 51% of the vote, Republicans won 63 of 99 seats.

    Districting is imperfect, but this is criminal distortion of voter representation.

  7. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Patrick- Actually, the testimony in the lawsuit showed that it WASN’T the “Big Sort” that led to these disparities- that was only about 3% of the difference. The other 4-7% of difference was man-made by the Wisconsin GOP and their hired contractors that did their dirty work off the Capitol grounds.

    That was based on 2014. If anything, 2016 was even worse, where communities like Brown Deer, Wauwatosa, and West Allis all voted for Clinton and Dem state candidates, but are “represented” by numerous GOPs who live outside of Milwaukee County, and who didn’t get a majority of votes inside of Milwaukee County. That’s not “big sort”, that’s imperialism, and needs to be fixed.

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Some genius on this site bragged bout California Fiscal condition. They are 127.2 billion in deficit according to the Auditors plus way over budget on Halfast Train.

    Thank you Scott Walker. We are 700 million to the good.

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    You cannot take percentages and total vote cause lots of districts did not have candidates.

  10. Tim says:

    WCD, you lie about the most easily checked stuff… tell me, what color is the sky?

  11. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Tim, best for people to think you are ignorant, then open mouth and prove it.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    Time to retire that zinger WCD. It doesn’t work. He linked to a source. If you go a simple Google search you will find a plethora of stories about California’s projected budget surplus. Where are your sources? Links?

  13. happyjack27 says:

    Using the Iowa method on Wisconsin state legislative districts would result in a map still heavily gerrymandered for republicans (due to geopolitical self-sorting).

    I believe an earlier article by Bruce Thompson showed this.

    You need to explicitly optimize for maximum partisan symmetry, using e.g. a heuristic optimization algorithm.

  14. happyjack27 says:

    “It’s part of the reason Republicans have won both statewide and nationally via the electoral college but trailed the popular vote. Democrats cluster with other likeminded people to a point where we have districts that run up vote totals of 90% democrat. You’re shooting yourself in the foot. This is the overwhelming cause of this “problem” and not actual Gerrymandering.”

    Wrong. Knowing about this effect you mentioned and STILL DRAWING THE LINES THAT WAY is not only gerrymandering, it’s deliberate and malicious gerrymandering.

  15. happyjack27 says:

    “You cannot take percentages and total vote cause lots of districts did not have candidates.”

    This is why you do imputation.

    Imputation means filling in missing data with statistical estimates drawn from closely related data.

    For instance, one can take the presidential race, adjust it to have the same uniform partisan swing in the contested races, and then use those number in the uncontested races. Alternatively you could use data from prior years where the elections were contested, and do the same thing.

    I believe this has been mentioned before in comments on earlier articles on gerrymandering. Among which, you were present.

  16. happyjack27 says:

    WCD says (citing no sources at all):

    “Some genius on this site bragged bout California Fiscal condition. They are 127.2 billion in deficit according to the Auditors plus way over budget on Halfast Train.”

    The Associated Press says (nov 17, 2016):

    “SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst said Wednesday he’s forecasting a $2.8 billion budget surplus next year and says California should be able to weather a mild recession without major budget cuts or tax increases over the next four years.”

    Who to believe? WCD, or California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst?

    let’s not call it “[lyng] about the most easily checked stuff”. It’s just WCD’s “Alternative facts”.

  17. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    That is correct to a point, but it does not take into effect the differences in votes like Tosa.
    Trump lost by 16,000 to 10,000. Johnson lost by 3400 or so. Kooyenga by about 1500 or so. Sensnebrenenr won by 1500 or so.
    No way to estimate what the candidate would have gotten if there had not been one running for Assembly. You do not impute but have to guess.
    Fact is that Wiscosnin is and has been 47/47 for decades since 1948, when new dems came out. GOP is winning cause the Dems are just whining, have no issues and have no candidates.

  18. happyjack27 says:

    WCD, you don’t seem to be grasping the basic concept of imputation.

  19. Vincent Hanna says:

    If the GOP is doing better on the issues and candidates, why are they fighting this? Why not draw new maps and then prove that their ideas and candidates are better?

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Grasp it, No, I invented it 40 years ago in 1970.

  21. happyjack27 says:

    “Item missing data has long been recognized as a problem for data analysts. Early solutions to the problem of missing data were directed to specific distributions for variables of interest and patterns of missing data. For example, Buck’s (1960) method introduced imputations of conditional mean values for each pattern of missing observations in a multivariate normal vector of variables.”

  22. Richard Schallert says:

    After returning from my tour of duty in Korea years ago, I lived in Iowa. Married, created a family and built a fairly good career in several fields. Also participated in local and State politics. Was there 40 years before retirement and moved to Wisconsin. Dring the 1960-1980 period, there was some political chicanery on the part of both political parties. After the 1980 census, the commission :system” of designing voter districts was inaugurated. Over the next 20-plus years, both parties eventually agreed that this “neutral” system of redistricting was fairer to all concerned.
    PLUS, the “competition” between parties and candidates created a lot of very good conversations and discussions between candidates as well as voters. This process generated a lot of “:light” about Iowa’s current and future political problems and issues. It’s not a perfect by far, but a much better one that the corrupt, crooked gerrymanders that Scott Fitzgerald and his cronies SECRETLY created and foisted on Wisconsin during the Spring of 2011!! He’s a bully and a braggart; reminds me a lot of you now who. Incidentally, two of our adult children still live in Iowa with their families and prefer the Iowa :system”. More and better candidates, fairer elections and, in general, a BETTER BALANCED Legislature!

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us