Posted: January 6, 2017
Updated: March 2, 2017
The controversial process of redrawing Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional districts every 10 years would be pulled from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and turned over to a nonpartisan legislative agency, according to a Democratic proposal.
Senator Dave Hansen
Introduced this session as Senate Bill 13 and offered by Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay, the proposal would institute a process similar to the one used by the state of Iowa for the past 36 years. The Assembly companion is AB44 and sponsors include Republican Representative Todd Novak of Dodgeville.
Wisconsin’s 132 legislative and eight congressional boundaries are redrawn every 10 years based on the new U.S. Census in order to make each district as equal in population as possible. The work of redrawing the state’s political maps is solely controlled by the party that controls the legislature at the time, allowing that party to safeguard or increase its seats and its control over state programs and spending.
In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose their representatives, not the other way around. Through partisan redistricting assisted by increasingly sophisticated computer mapping technology, elected officials have been able to choose their voters and increase the likelihood they’ll keep their jobs.
Districts with either mostly Democratic or mostly Republican voters make elections less competitive and voters less able to infuse new blood and fresh ideas into the political system. They also contribute to hyper-partisan, polarized politics that make compromise nearly impossible on controversial issues. Candidates who appeal to independents or voters of both parties are squeezed out. The result is a legislature of fierce partisans, with fewer members willing to reach across the political divide to get the public's business done.
Under Hansen’s proposal, the job of redrawing the boundaries would be turned over to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. The agency would be required to draw Assembly, state Senate and Congressional boundaries in an impartial manner because it would be prohibited from considering voting patterns, party propaganda and incumbency, among other things.
A new five-member partisan commission appointed by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders would then be required to release the maps and other information to the public after it is drafted in the form of a bill and introduced in the legislature. The commission would also be required to hold at least three hearings around the state for public comment on the new maps before the legislature votes on the bill.
The legislature would have three opportunities to vote up or down on the agency’s redistricting maps without changes. If lawmakers fail to approve the maps, the legislature would have to draw up and approve maps, which could be subject to legal challenges, likely by the party not in control of the legislature.
The current legislative maps, which were secretly created by majority Republicans, have been the subject of numerous federal court challenges.
Last November, a panel of three federal judges ruled that the GOP’s redrawn Assembly districts to favor Republicans was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the first such ruling in three decades of pitched legal battles over the issue. On January 27th, a federal district court naively gave the Wisconsin legislature till Nov. 1 of this year to redraw the district maps. And on Feb. 24th, Attorney General Brad Schimel notified the U.S. Supreme Court that he was appealing the November ruling.