Most believe that all Wisconsin voters, no matter who we are or where we’re from, deserve an equal voice and an equal say in electing leaders whose decisions impact our lives.
We define our communities, communities set their own boundaries, and every community gets an equal say. During this pandemic, we are seeing more than ever how we’re pulling through this by pulling together. From the smallest farming town where neighbors are miles apart to the densest city block where neighbors live in high rises, our communities are coming together with and for every person in them.
But today, the district maps that define who governs us deliberately carve up our communities so that the wealthiest among us can have their few voices dominate and drown out the needs and beliefs of the rest. For too long, these special interests have rigged the rules so only what they say goes, handing themselves endless riches generated through our hard work and contributions while blocking our efforts for fair wages, affordable healthcare, and quality schools.
Wisconsinites know we are better off when we stand with and for each other. We are all in Wisconsin together and we deserve leaders who reflect the very best of every kind of Wisconsinite and will govern in our interest. By joining together to ensure everyone and every community has an equal say in determining our future, we will build a Wisconsin that works for all of us.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
WHAT IS GERRYMANDERING?
Gerrymandering is when a political party in power redraws the boundaries of voting districts after the federal Census in crafty ways to give their party a further advantage.
WHY IS IT SO BAD?
It rigs the political game in favor of one-party rule. It decreases competition. It muffles the voices of citizens who are in the minority. It deprives Wisconsinites of equal representation. And it leads to hyper-partisanship.
Use the drop-down menus below to learn more about gerrymandering, how it got so bad in Wisconsin, and how to fix it.
Every 10 years, after the national Census is taken, states redraw the boundaries for their legislative and congressional districts. In Wisconsin, the State Legislature has constitutional authority when it comes to apportionment and redistricting. The political party that’s in power at the time – whether Democratic or Republican – has tended to draw maps that are tailor-made for their reelection. If neither party has full control, sometimes a deal can be made, and if not, a judge will intervene and impose a map, as has happened three times in the last forty years.
In 2011, the GOP in Wisconsin swept to power, taking over control of the Assembly, the Senate, and the Governor’s office, and it took the practice of partisan map rigging to new levels. It also decided to redraw the maps not in public, in the Wisconsin Capitol, but instead in a locked office of the private, pricey law firm across the street, Michael Best & Friedrich.
The media wasn’t allowed in. The public wasn’t allowed in. Democrats weren’t allowed in. Even Republican legislators who were not in leadership had to ask to be let in the locked room, and once they got to see their own redrawn districts, they had to sign an oath of secrecy. That’s not how the people’s business is supposed to be done.
The Republican leadership hired demographic specialists and computer experts to employ the latest mapping technology to create maps that were more rigged than almost any in modern history. The leadership then rammed the maps through the legislature in ten days flat. The bill, 2011 Act 43, was then signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.
And the new maps did what they were designed to do: They ensured that the Republicans grabbed more seats. For instance, in the first election under the plan, Republicans won 60 out of 99 seats in the Assembly despite losing the aggregate statewide vote.
Gerrymandering has allowed the Republicans to pick their voters rather than the other way around. It allows a political party that happens to hold the state assembly, the state senate, and the governorship on even-decade years to rig maps to keep themselves in power for another 10 years. It deprives voters of other parties of an equal chance at political power, interfering with their First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. And fundamentally, it leads to unrepresentative government.
It also makes more districts more uncompetitive, and as a result, the elected officials in these districts do not have to be responsive to their constituents who are in the minority. This, in turn, leads to hyper-partisanship. When incumbents are in safe districts, they don’t need to listen to those constituents who disagree with them. They can be as dogmatic as they’d like because they won’t pay any price for it. As a result, compromise becomes nearly impossible, and even plain old courtesy goes out the window. On top of that, incumbents are threatened within their own parties if they dare to stray from the party line; they are told they will be “primaried” by a candidate who is more in lockstep with the leadership, which will provide a lot of funding for that challenger.
WISCONSINITES OF ALL PERSUASIONS WANT TO BAN GERRYMANDERING – Having a fair, independent nonpartisan way to do redistricting is overwhelmingly popular among Wisconsinites. A Marquette Law School poll in early 2019 found that 72 percent of Wisconsinites wanted to ban gerrymandering. That included 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents.
A MASS MOVEMENT RISES, COUNTY BY COUNTY – Over the past five years, a large and dynamic mass movement has been growing in Wisconsin to ban gerrymandering. Citizens across the state have been gathering together to call on their elected officials to fix this problem. By the end of summer of 2020, 54 county boards – three quarters of them in “red” counties – had passed resolutions urging the state legislature to adopt nonpartisan redistricting, and 17 had passed countywide referendums – most by more than 72%.
THE SOLUTION IS EASY: THE IOWA MODEL – Iowa solved the problem of gerrymandering 40 years ago, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here in Wisconsin. In Iowa, career civil servants – and not the leaders of the party in power – draw the district maps there, using specific criteria that prohibit them from using demographic voting data to rig the districts in favor of one party or another. The Iowa Model also ensures public participation, with hearings held all around the state. The process works well in Iowa, and it’ll work well here in Wisconsin, too. We need to pass legislation to ban gerrymandering and adopt the Iowa Model. Legislation to do just that has been introduced.
WHAT’S LIKELY TO HAPPEN IN 2021 – Governor Evers has unveiled a proposal to do away with the state’s partisan redistricting process and give the responsibility of drawing the state’s political maps to a nonpartisan agency. The plan, to be included in his state budget request, mirrors the independent process in Iowa and would take effect before the state’s redistricting process gets fully underway after the 2020 Census is complete and directly address the practice of a political party in total control of state government drawing legislative maps to skew majorities in their favor.
If the proposal is not adopted, the Republicans will try to draw another rigged map. This time, though, Governor Evers will veto it. In such an impasse, a judge will appoint a nonpartisan expert to draw the maps, so they should be fairer than they were in 2011.
A LOOMING THREAT – However, there is talk that the Republican leadership is trying to come up with a scheme to deprive Governor Evers of his right to exercise a veto over the maps that they draw in 2021. Here’s how they could do it. Instead of passing a bill, which the governor could veto, they’d pass a joint resolution instead, and joint resolutions don’t go to the governor for signing or vetoing. So this would be a way for them to cut Evers out of the equation and get their rigged maps through. It would be a power play that goes against established practice and against current law.
The governor’s role in redistricting is long established and there is a 55-year-old Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent that prohibits the Legislature from acing the governor out. But Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald could try it anyway. After all, they’ve resorted to naked power grabs before. And they could rely on their pals on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to say it’s OK. That’s why it’s more important than ever to demand fair maps!
The Founders of our country fought the War of Independence over fair representation. Gerrymandering deprives Wisconsinites of fair representation.
The health of our democracy depends on the integrity and fairness of our election system. The more rigged the system is, the more cynical and apathetic the citizenry will become.
Wisconsinites believe in fair play. They are sick and tired of powerful elected officials rigging the game. Elected officials shouldn’t choose their voters; voters should choose their elected officials. Wisconsinites, across the political spectrum, want to ban gerrymandering. A Marquette Law School poll showed that 72 percent of Wisconsinites want fair, nonpartisan redistricting – and that includes 63 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents. The bipartisan support for banning gerrymandering is also reflected in the fact that the current reform bills have five Republican co-sponsors and in the fact that more than 75 percent of the 55 counties that are on board are “red” counties.
If you’re sick of the hyper-partisanship in Madison, you should be in favor of banning gerrymandering. By creating “safe” districts, gerrymandering increases partisanship. The elected official needs to only appeal to the base and can ignore a huge chunk of his or her district. And if the official dares to compromise, the party leaders can “primary” that elected official for being insufficiently partisan. Wouldn’t it be better to have a process that incentivizes decent compromise and civility instead of bullying and rudeness?
It doesn’t matter which party is doing it. Gerrymandering is wrong.
No, the career civil servants at the Legislative Reference Bureau, who would be drawing the maps under the Iowa Model, could not rig them. There is language in the bills that specifically forbids them from using political demographic data in drawing the maps or in showing other kinds of favoritism. If they tried to do this, they’d be prosecuted.
Nonpartisan redistricting is transparent and inclusive. The Iowa Model and the current reform bills require public hearings about the maps in every Congressional district in the state. It won’t be a secretive, behind-locked-doors process in Madison.
Critics would have you believe that Democrats are underrepresented in the Legislature because they pack themselves into Dane and Milwaukee Counties, not because of gerrymandering. There are two persuasive rebuttals to this: First, in 2011, Republican leaders went way out of their way to rig the lines on districts far away from Madison and Milwaukee. And second, Republican voters also pack themselves: in the WOW Counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington) and many rural counties. The problem isn’t with where you live. It’s with the manipulative ways that political leaders draw lines around where you live.
The partisan legal challenges cost the Wisconsin taxpayers a lot of money! When one party engages in gerrymandering, and the other party sues, it’s the Wisconsin taxpayer who foots the bill. The legal wrangling over the 2011 gerrymander cost the Wisconsin taxpayer upwards of $4 million.
But there are costs, and then there are COSTS. Some of these other costs are:
The cost in neglecting input from their constituents: Some officials in “safe” districts are ignoring phone calls and emails from their constituents and aren’t even doing town halls, as you noted, because they feel they’re so safe they don’t have to. This is a high cost to democracy.
The cost in civility. Because the party in control can cement their stranglehold in power for 10 years by rigging maps, they don’t even have to be civil to their colleagues on the other side because they won’t ever need their votes. The loss of civility, along with hyper partisanship, is corrosive of democracy.
The cost in local control and self-rule. By rigging the system to keep themselves in power, the elected officials from the dominant party can take away power from local units of self-government and not pay a price. (Under Walker, they pushed though more than 180 laws that took power away from counties, cities, towns and villages.)
WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?
To achieve fair maps, it’s going to take all of us working together. So, we’ve got some great ways you can get involved NOW! Join us in outreach as we launch a fair maps deep canvass AND register for our special screening of CanYou Hear Us Now? followed by a panel discussion and Q&A sessions with the film creators and some of the incredible Wisconsinites featured in the movie!
Watch the trailer below and follow the links to register for both the screening and deep canvas.