Redistricting Shouldn’t Be Done In Secret
The last time around Republicans did it in secret and destroyed records of their deliberations.
Wisconsin lawmakers will soon begin redrawing congressional and state voting boundaries, in accordance with the latest Census. It’s a good time to reflect on how that process has played out before — and for the public to demand greater transparency this time around.
A good example of how things ought not work comes from the last round of redistricting, in 2011.
It was the first time since the 1950s that a single party had complete control of the process, and it allowed Republicans to cement control of the Legislature for a decade — even in 2018, when Democrats won every statewide election.
As later court cases and news reporting uncovered, the mapmaking process was an affront to the state’s tradition of open government.
The maps were drawn in a closely guarded “map room” in a law firm across the street from the Capitol. Only Republicans were allowed in to see the new maps, and only if they signed nondisclosure agreements.
When Democrats briefly took the majority in 2012, they demanded to see the redistricting records that had been hidden from them. Looking at the mapmakers’ computers, they found that hundreds of thousands of documents had been deleted and one hard drive had been damaged.
Still, records recovered from the hard drives (it turns out deleting files doesn’t always destroy them) showed with each map draft, Republicans were tweaking them to be more and more politically advantageous. The Republicans were deliberately trying to pack Democrats into fewer districts to help Republicans win more seats.
Whether or not you like politicians picking their voters (and the passage of referendums or resolutions in 56 counties across the state calling for nonpartisan redistricting suggest most voters don’t), the public should want a more transparent process than what happened in 2011.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal calls for retaining all legislative redistricting records for 10 years and making sure all legislative redistricting meetings comply with the open meetings law. That would be a good start for building more confidence in the redistricting process.
The news site Wispolitics.com recently revealed that Republicans are planning to spend upwards of $1 million of taxpayer money on outside lawyers on redistricting lawsuits. The 2011 redistricting litigation cost taxpayers at least $3.5 million, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
With such a high price tag, it’s important to reiterate the conclusion the three judges, including two Republican appointees, reached in the 2011 litigation in which they blasted the “peculiarly furtive process adopted by the majority party.”
Aptly, they added: “The people of Wisconsin deserve better in the next round of redistricting after the 2020 census.”
Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Matthew DeFour, a council member, is state politics editor for the Wisconsin State Journal.
- DOJ Joins Coalition Urging Supreme Court Not to Weaken Voting Rights Act Protections in Alabama Redistricting Case - Wisconsin Department of Justice - Jul 25th, 2022
- The State of Politics: How Republicans Won Redistricting Fight - Steven Walters - Apr 25th, 2022
- Redistricting Update - Wisconsin Elections Commission - Apr 18th, 2022
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement Reacting to Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision Regarding Redistricting - Gov. Tony Evers - Apr 15th, 2022
- Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District Might Be Competitive Again - Shawn Johnson - Apr 15th, 2022
- Data Wonk: State’s Gerrymander Could Last Forever - Bruce Thompson - Mar 30th, 2022
- Op Ed: US Supreme Court Throws State Election Into Chaos - Ruth Conniff - Mar 27th, 2022
- Redistricting Case Returns to State Supreme Court - Shawn Johnson - Mar 25th, 2022
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Decision Regarding Redistricting - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 23rd, 2022
- US Supreme Court Rejects State’s Legislative Maps - Shawn Johnson - Mar 23rd, 2022
Read more about Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts here