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Elected officials should not choose their voters. Voters should choose their elected officials. It’s time for Wisconsin to return to fair elections.
Competitive elections and choice of representation lie at the core of our democracy. But Wisconsin’s snaking and tangled legislative maps, drawn by the majority party to ensure its members’ re-elections, have distilled voters’ voices.
Wisconsin is among the most “gerrymandered” states in the nation. Politically created district boundaries all but ensure the outcome on Election Day.
In the 2014 election, 90 percent of all legislative candidates in Wisconsin won by margins greater than 10 percent. Compare that to 2010, the last election before maps were redrawn, when twice as many races were decided by margins less than 10 percent. In 2012, Democrats received more total votes than Republicans statewide, yet Republicans gained seats in the Legislature and held their advantage in Congress.
In September 2015, the Assembly Democratic Freshmen Caucus introduced a solution. Assembly Bill 328 would remove the responsibility for redistricting from partisan politicians and assign the task of drawing new maps to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau. Non-partisan redistricting would not only make the process fairer, but it would also alleviate the need for expensive outside attorneys to draw maps and likely would avoid costly lawsuits.
AB 328 was referred to the Committee on Campaigns and Elections, but the committee chair, Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R–Chippewa Falls, has refused to allow a public hearing to let the people of Wisconsin weigh in on the issue. In the past, she’s promised to hold a hearing on non-partisan redistricting reform.
To give an election year appearance of fulfilling her promise, Bernier recently scheduled an “informational hearing” on “legislative redistricting” (notice the absence of any mention of “non-partisan”) on April Fools’ Day, April 1. On a day where nothing is what it seems, this hearing fit right in: The committee would only hear testimony from invited guest speakers and AB 328, the actual non-partisan redistricting bill, was not on the agenda. In addition, the Legislature had already concluded its session and will not vote on any more bills until 2017.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has consistently dismissed non-partisan redistricting as a “nonstarter” and stated it would not receive a vote. Has he suddenly had a change of heart on the matter? Or, more likely, is he pushing one of his most vulnerable Republican members to masquerade as a redistricting reform champion in order to increase her chances of re-election?
Despite broad support for this reform, it appears that Vos and Republicans still don’t take seriously what would clearly be a win for citizens across the State of Wisconsin.
Although the Republicans’ stance against non-partisan redistricting reform seems at odds with the views of their constituents, Democrats remain committed to representing the people who have chosen us, rather than choosing the people we want to represent.
Reps. David Bowen, Jonathan Brostoff, Dave Considine, Beth Meyers, Mark Spreitzer, Amanda Stuck and Lisa Subeck submitted this op-ed.