Fair Maps

Why Wisconsin Needs Fair Maps

Every 10 years, after the results of a new census are known, states redraw the boundaries for their legislative and congressional districts. When a single political party controls both the executive and legislative branches of government, those districts are sometimes drawn to favor that party. This practice is called “gerrymandering”. With more sophisticated information and tools at their disposal, politicians have made gerrymandering into an artform in some states, including Wisconsin. Once in place, political districts remain gerrymandered until the next census is done and districts are modified based upon the new information 10 years later.

Gerrymandering allows elected officials to pick their voters rather than the other way around. It deprives voters of other parties of an equal chance at political power. For example, as a result of gerrymandering, in 2018, Democratic candidates for the assembly received 54% of the total votes cast in Wisconsin, yet Republicans were able to maintain their majority in the assembly, winning 63 of 99 state assembly. 

Gerrymandering makes more districts very uncompetitive which, in turn, leads to hyper-partisanship. When incumbents are in safe districts as a result of gerrymandering, they don’t need to listen to constituents who disagree with them. They can be as dogmatic as they would like because they won’t lose their seat for it. Compromise becomes nearly impossible and civility disappears from our public discourse. With gerrymandered districts, incumbents who do not act in lockstep with their party fear a primary opponent more than an opponent from another party. 

How do we fix this? One solution would be to adopt a system similar to that in Iowa. For the past 40 years, career civil servants – and not the leaders of the party in power – have drawn the district maps there, with specific criteria that guard against partisanship and favoritism. The Iowa model also ensures public participation with hearings held around the state. Iowa has found an easy and reliable way to achieve fair voting maps. It works there. With just some state-specific adjustments, it would work well in Wisconsin, too.

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See also, In the War Against Gerrymandering, an Army of Voters Meets a Dug-in Foe, August 15, 2019 New York Times, analyzing the difficulties in ending gerrymandering in Wisconsin.