By THERESA BURNS-GILBERT | Sparta
I would like to share some information with your readers on an advisory referendum they will face on the April 7 ballot. So many times, a referendum sneaks up on people as a surprise in the voting booth. The question is, “Should the Wisconsin Legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for preparing legislative and congressional redistricting plans?”
Why is this question coming before us now? As per federal law, the 2020 census will be conducted this year. After information is gathered in the census, each state is required to draw maps to reflect any change in population and form districts so citizens can vote to select people to represent them and their local interests. It is imperative that those maps be drawn to reflect our local needs. The Wisconsin constitution does not say how the maps must actually be drawn.
Both political parties have decided how the maps are drawn in the past. This has led to gerrymandering: a bipartisan problem that requires a nonpartisan solution. Over the past 20 years, manipulating geographic boundaries has grown more common and sophisticated through computer manipulation. The majority party is able to create partisan or incumbent-protected districts. It makes sure their party wins more seats.
The legislature has the ability to change the way maps are drawn, but in recent years, bills have not been brought for a public hearing. Republican Rep. Loren Oldenburg, who represents the southern third of Monroe County, has sponsored AB 303. Democratic Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse has sponsored SB 288. They ask for independent redistricting commission before the 2021 mapping process.
Because the regular method to change laws have not been successful, other actions have been taken. A movement called Fair Maps has been moving throughout the state. In August 2017, the Monroe County Board of Supervisors joined 49 other Wisconsin county boards that have adopted Fair Map resolutions.
Why do 50 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin support this? Because local control and fair distribution of funds have been eroding with the state legislature removing control from local county boards. Eight counties, including La Crosse and Vernon, already have conducted successful citizen advisory referendums. Our neighbors in Wood and Trempealeau Counties also will face the question on the April ballot, along with residents of six more counties and 14 municipalities in Vilas and Oneida counties. The 2009 and 2020 Marquette survey has reported that 70 percent of Wisconsin voters support an independent, nonpartisan commission model.
Another reason Fair Maps has gained support across the political parties is to save taxpayer funds. Since the 2011 restricting, Wisconsin has spent over $4 million defending the unconstitutional maps. SB288 and AB 303 are based on the method the state of Iowa has used for 40 years. In the Iowa model, nonpartisan civil servants draw maps that are prohibited from including demographic data related to voting and to keep the maps as compact as possible. Public meetings are then held statewide before the legislature approves the maps. Iowa spends less than $100,000 to conduct the public meetings for citizens to review the proposed maps. Fair Maps is about fair play and a democracy where everyone has an equal voice and every vote counts equally. I recommend a yes vote on April 7.