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.
- Evers Redistricting Panel Seeks ‘Partisan Fairness’ - Shawn Johnson - Apr 17th, 2021
- Law Forward’s “Redistricting 101” Provides Much-needed Overview of Critical but Complicated Process - Law Forward - Apr 15th, 2021
- Op Ed: Wisconsin Needs Fair Maps - Ruth Conniff - Apr 1st, 2021
- Your Right to Know: Redistricting Shouldn’t Be Done In Secret - Matthew DeFour - Mar 2nd, 2021
- Redistricting conversation continues on virtual “On the Issues,” Feb. 11 - Marquette University - Feb 10th, 2021
- Op Ed: Redistricting Should Consider Native Americans - Tehassi Hill - Feb 9th, 2021
- Op Ed: Why the War on Masks? Gerrymandering - Mel Barnes - Feb 7th, 2021
- Op Ed: Correct a Cheating System With Fair Maps - State Sen. Jeff Smith - Feb 3rd, 2021
- Will State Supreme Court Draw New Legislative Boundaries? - Shawn Johnson - Jan 15th, 2021
- Data Wonk: Tales Told By The 2020 Election - Bruce Thompson - Dec 31st, 2020
Read more about Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts here