A remarkable advocacy campaign is happening in Wisconsin, involving media outlets, nonprofit groups and engaged citizens. They want to change — or at least discuss — how the state redraws voter boundaries .
Two mostly Democrat-backed bills, AB 185 and SB 163, would strip this task from politicians and give it to the Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan state service agency. This is similar to how redistricting is done in Iowa.
Wisconsin’s last redistricting, after the 2010 Census, was done in secret and cost taxpayers more than $2 million. Ruling Republicans strategically carved districts to maximize their electoral prospects, much as Democrats would had done had they been able.
Consider: In the fall 2012 elections, Republicans won five of the state’s eight congressional seats, six of 11 contested state Senate races, and 56 of 76 contested Assembly seats — despite getting fewer votes statewide than Democrats in all three categories.
This system for letting politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around, has long been opposed by Common Cause in Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Their cause got a boost in mid-August with the publication of editorials in papers including the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Appleton Post-Crescent, Beloit Daily News, La Crosse Tribune, Chippewa Herald, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Oshkosh Northwestern and Janesville Gazette.
The idea was hatched by Scott Milfred and David Haynes, the editorial page editors of, respectively, the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, along with Neil Heinen, editorial director of WISC-TV in Madison, which aired an editorial on the topic.
Milfred says the trio considered this an important issue that “didn’t look like it was going anywhere.” So they appealed to editorial boards across the state: “We thought more voices saying the same thing at the same time would be more likely to prompt action.”
The editorials called on state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, who chair the committees where the redistricting bills languish, to allow public hearings.
“What are you and your Republican leaders afraid of?” chided the Janesville Gazette.
The bills are similar to ones that went nowhere in the past, including when Democrats controlled state government. GOP lawmakers including Lazich think the current bills should go nowhere too.
“Granting redistricting power to an unelected, appointed board would do little to remove the redistricting process from the political realm,” wrote Lazich in an column run by the State Journal and Journal Sentinel. “Rather, it would merely move the political maneuverings to an unaccountable board, beyond the reach of the electorate.”
In other words: If you don’t like what the party in power does to make it harder to vote its members out, all you have to do is vote them out.
The response from State Journal readers helped answer the Janesville Gazette’s question. All 13 letters that ran the following Sunday sided with the paper and against Sen. Lazich, with some noting the irony of Lazich using the banner of democracy to deny a public hearing.
Milfred says preference is given to “publishing reader views that disagree with our editorial board’s positions,” but in this case not a single such letter was received. In fact, the paper got more letters supporting its position than it had space to run.
Several editorials urged citizens to contact the offices of Sen. Lazich and Rep. August, but neither office would say what sort of response it received. An aide to Rep. August said the office only tracks constituent contacts, then failed to provide information on these.
Sen. Lazich, through staff, did not respond to requests for an interview or to say whether the reaction made her reconsider.
But Milfred is optimistic that a hearing will be held: “With that many voices across the state supporting a hearing, I’d be surprised if they’d just blow that off.”
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (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.
In summary: It’s only a problem when Republicans do it.
Response to Roland: Did you read this article? The author clearly explained that BOTH Democrats and Republicans share the blame for allowing such a corrupt process to persist in Wisconsin.
Though I can understand why you might be irritated by Democrats, how does that EXCUSE the horrifically unethical actions of Republicans in the most recent round of redistricting?
Please forget your partisan loyalty for a while and act like a patriotic American who believes all American elections should be honest and above board no matter who is currently in charge.
NONE of us should defend election rigging by ANY political party.
Every member of the Republican Party in Wisconsin should be able to see how dangerous this kind of manipulation is to the long-term survival of a “Representative Republic” like ours.
Political party manipulation of district voting boundaries in order to win more elections is unethical and intolerable in America. PERIOD.
Holding closed partisan meetings to set such boundaries secretly is profoundly unacceptable in America. PERIOD.
Spending $2 million taken from taxpayers to achieve such corruption would be considered OUTRAGEOUS anywhere. PERIOD.
It doesn’t matter which Parties got away with such corruption in the past … it’s WRONG. This is not how our elections are supposed to work.
American elections are supposed to be shining examples of honesty, equality and fairness … for the whole world to see and copy. It’s embarrassing that NOW the world can plainly see that most American elections (and law-making processes) are heavily corrupted by big money influence and a host of unethical dirty tricks like this. America has become a disgusting example of how NOT to run honest elections. We should all be ashamed of ourselves.
As a first step towards recovering at least minimal election honesty, we ALL need to stop this particular type of redistricting corruption from ever happening again by:
1. demanding that redistricting authority be taken away from partisan politicians and given to a respected team of long-term non-partisan professional staff, such as those in the Legislative Reference Bureau,
2. demanding that the legislature set clear, reasonable, STRICT rules to be followed by the staff while redrawing boundaries, to keep the process honest and consistent.
3. demanding that this process be conducted only at open, accessible public meetings, after reasonable public notice. All correspondence and records used in the process should also be easily and quickly accessible by the public.
4. requiring that a final decision be made only AFTER a draft plan is publicly circulated statewide and AFTER a written public comment period and public hearings have been held throughout the state. The public comment period should end only after giving the public at least 30 days to study and discuss the maps.
In the meantime, we must demand IMMEDIATE action to dump the Republican’s corrupt district maps right away and put HONEST maps in place well before the next election (candidates need to know their campaign boundaries). We could temporarily revert to prior maps, and/or have a mixed team of judges fast-track fair and reasonable interim maps to use until the next formal redistricting process.
Republicans should not be rewarded for their unethical and un-American behavior by letting them benefit AGAIN and AGAIN from their self-serving rigged maps in upcoming elections. It’s bad enough that they got away with this fraud in the last election on a huge scale. We can’t let it happen again.
Many people in this state are currently “represented” and ruled by individuals who shoved democracy aside and used partisan trickery to steal political power away from rightful winning candidates who would better represent the wishes of the majority of Wisconsin voters.
In other words, several of our state legislators and federal congress members are unethical frauds.
Correction can’t wait another 6 or 7 years until the next redistricting is completed after the 2020 census.
Not ONE more Wisconsin candidate should be allowed to “win” election dishonestly because of these corrupt maps.
Every patriot should immediately recognize the urgency here and demand immediate corrections. We CAN’T allow Wisconsin’s elections to continue as blatantly rigged JOKES.
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