The Push for Nonpartisan Redistricting
Advocates push for Wisconsin to enact a redistricting process similar to Iowa's system.
No matter which way the U.S. Supreme Court decides, change could be coming to Wisconsin’s partisan system for redrawing electoral districts.
In a decision that could come down any day, the nation’s highest court will decide a lawsuit challenging the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin’s ruling that the 2011 redistricting was unconstitutional.
Thus far, 39 of 72 Wisconsin counties have passed resolutions in support of a nonpartisan redistricting process at the urging of groups including the Fair Elections Project, a bipartisan group that supports litigation, legislation and public advocacy to stop partisan gerrymandering; and the Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative, a group associated with Citizen Action of Wisconsin in which members pay an organizer to work on changing the state’s redistricting process.
Ultimately, these activists envision a system similar to one used by Iowa, where the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency creates the new map every 10 years. Previous voting statistics are not considered, and the homes of legislators or members of Congress are not taken into account.
The LSA uses population size as the primary determinant when considering how to redraw a district. The agency divides Iowa’s 99 counties into four congressional districts and 100 legislative districts. Appropriate shapes for districts include squares and rectangles.
Transparency with the public is key to Iowa’s redistricting success. A temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission, created by the floor leaders of the General Assembly, holds three public hearings throughout the state after the first plan is released to lawmakers, allowing citizens to comment on the proposed districts.
If the new map is voted down, the Legislative Services Agency can draw another and then another. If those maps are all rejected, then the Iowa Supreme Court will draw new maps.
“In the four redistricting processes since the Iowa law took effect in 1981, the Iowa Legislature has always passed the nonpartisan maps created by the Legislative Services Bureau without ever going to a third vote,” according to Common Cause in Wisconsin.
While they were in the Wisconsin Legislature, Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen and Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz tried to change the system from the inside. After the 2011 redistricting, the two authored bills calling for new maps to be sent to the court if they are voted down twice.
But they never got a hearing.
Schultz and Cullen are now co-chairmen of the Fair Elections Project Wisconsin campaign, which is dedicated to helping “end the partisan gridlock” by stopping gerrymandering.
Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay believes Republicans and Democrats must come together and pass nonpartisan redistricting laws to give citizens fair, transparent and competitive elections.
Last session, two new redistricting bills sponsored by Democrats, including Hansen, Assembly Bill 44 and Senate Bill 13, were proposed. They called for the Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan state agency, to draw district lines and for the establishment of a Redistricting Advisory Commission. Both died after not receiving a public hearing.
Republican Rep. Kathleen Bernier of Chippewa Falls, chairwoman of the Committee on Campaigns and Elections, said she held an informational hearing on nonpartisan redistricting bills in 2013. She did not schedule a hearing for AB 44 because of the ongoing Supreme Court case, saying there was no need to preempt the court’s decision.
Democrats could have and should have changed the redistricting process when they held majority control in 2009 and 2010 “if that was a burning desire,” Bernier said. “Neither Democrats or Republicans, holding the majority, wanted to give up that legal and ‘constitutional’ authority.”
Under the most recent bills, the Redistricting Advisory Commission would advise the nonpartisan reference bureau in the redistricting process, make copies of potential maps available to the public, hold three public hearings on the maps, and provide summaries of those hearings and the testimony involved to the LRB.
If the high court upholds the redistricting, Republicans are unlikely to voluntarily junk a system that has worked so well for them. And it is worth restating that when Hansen’s party controlled the Legislature and governor’s office in 2009 and 2010, nonpartisan redistricting was not passed.
“If you think just electing Dems is going to solve this problem, you’re wrong,” said Marla Stephens, a former state Supreme Court candidate who is pushing to end partisan redistricting.
“This needs to be a nonpartisan issue because it’s got a nonpartisan solution. I think what’s different about why people are so upset now is all of the technology and all of the partisanship coalesced at one time for the perfect storm, where Republicans had control of all of the branches of government.”
“The people of this state deserve it, our democracy deserves it, and taking the politics out of redistricting reform is needed if we are to restore — and this is so important — the people’s faith in their government, and end the polarization we see every day in Madison and throughout the state,” Hansen said.
“The health of our democracy and our state government is at stake,” he added. “We cannot afford to wait.”
This story was produced as part of an investigative reporting class in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication under the direction of Dee J. Hall, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s managing editor. The Center’s collaborations with journalism students are funded in part by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW-Madison. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts
- Supreme Court Punts on Gerrymandering - Shawn Johnson - Jun 18th, 2018
- Republican State Leadership Committee: The Efficiency Gap is “Sociological Gobbledygook” - Republican State Leadership Committee - Jun 18th, 2018
- Response to Gill v Whitford decision to remand back to trial court - Fair Elections Project - Jun 18th, 2018
- The Art Of Gerrymandering Milwaukee - Malia Jones - Jun 9th, 2018
- The Push for Nonpartisan Redistricting - Cathleen Draper - Jun 5th, 2018
- U.S. Supreme Court Nears Decision on Wisconsin Redistricting Case - Cathleen Draper - Jun 2nd, 2018
- Data Wonk: Many Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Mar 14th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Will U.S. Supremes Rule on State Districts? - Steven Walters - Feb 19th, 2018
- Back in the News: Majority Now Backs Fair Redistricting - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: John Roberts’ Nightmare - Bruce Thompson - Oct 11th, 2017
- The State of Politics: You Be The Judge on Redistricting - Steven Walters - Oct 2nd, 2017
- Op Ed: U.S. Supreme Court Should End Partisan Gerrymandering - Andrea Kaminski - Sep 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Judges Consider a Democratic Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - Aug 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: 24 Counties Have Voted for Fair Maps - Matt Rothschild - Aug 25th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Right Wing Seeks to End Democracy? - Bruce Thompson - Aug 23rd, 2017
- Data Wonk: US Supreme Court Wrong on Redistricting? - Bruce Thompson - May 31st, 2017
- Op Ed: Save Taxes With Nonpartisan Redistricting - Andrea Kaminski and Lindsay Dorff - May 26th, 2017
- Data Wonk: Why GOP Backs Gerrymander - Bruce Thompson - May 24th, 2017
- Data Wonk: State’s Political Map At Issue - Bruce Thompson - May 18th, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Attorney General Appeal of Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 24th, 2017
- Fair Elections Project calls upon Legislature to focus on fair map drawing process - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Feb 24th, 2017
- Campaign Cash: GOP’s Redistricting Lawyers Are Big Donors - Matt Rothschild - Feb 6th, 2017
- Op Ed: Reject Partisanship, Redraw Voting Maps - Andrea Kaminski - Feb 3rd, 2017
- Rep. Peter Barca Statement on Assembly Organization Committee Secret Ballot - State Rep. Peter Barca - Feb 2nd, 2017
- Court Watch: Court’s Redistricting Order A Problem? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 1st, 2017
- Rep. Hesselbein Calls for Open, Transparent, and Public Process for Drawing New Legislative Lines - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Jan 27th, 2017
- Wisconsin Federal Court Permanently Blocks State Redistricting Plan - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Jan 27th, 2017
- Data Wonk: 2016 Election Results Prove Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 28th, 2016
- Plaintiffs call for new maps for Wisconsin legislative district - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 21st, 2016
- Data Wonk: Measuring Wisconsin’s Gerrymandering - Bruce Thompson - Dec 7th, 2016
- Sen. Taylor statement on federal court ruling against Republican gerrymandering - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Nov 21st, 2016
- Statement on Redistricting Ruling - State Sen. Chris Larson - Nov 21st, 2016
- Federal Court overturns unconstitutional gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Nov 21st, 2016
- Rep. Barca Statement on Redistricting Decision - State Rep. Peter Barca - Nov 21st, 2016
- HISTORIC DECISION: Wisconsin Federal Court Strikes Down Partisan Gerrymander and Adopts Groundbreaking Legal Standard - Campaign Legal Center - Nov 21st, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering - Bruce Murphy - Jan 26th, 2016
- Data Wonk: Can New Approach End Gerrymandering? - Bruce Thompson - Jan 6th, 2016
- Federal Lawsuit to Overturn Unconstitutional Gerrymandering of Wisconsin Legislative Districts Continues - Wisconsin Fair Elections Project - Dec 17th, 2015
- Can Auto Redistricting End Gerrymandering? - Laura Thompson - Dec 10th, 2015
- Assembly candidate Brostoff calls for non-partisan redistricting - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Apr 17th, 2014
- Redistricting reform the antidote to Republican extremism - Press Release - Nov 13th, 2013
- Lazich, August, Fitzgerald and Vos Still Silent on Redistricting Reform Public Hearings As Support & Pressure Builds - Common Cause in Wisconsin - Sep 17th, 2013
- Freshmen legislators push new legislation to correct flawed partisan redistricting process - Press Release - Apr 11th, 2013