A MAP QUEST FOR A BETTER LEGISLATURE - WISCONSIN'S REDISTRICTING PROCESS IS GEARED TO PARTISAN POLITICS AND INCUMBENT JOB SECURITY.

Wisconsin State Journal
August 29, 2009


In the state Senate earlier this month, Democrats and Republicans each voted to hire lawyers at taxpayer expense to work on competing plans for redrawing legislative districts for the 2012 election. 

That's just a hint of the coming partisan battle over redistricting - a once-a-decade fight for control of the Legislature and congressional districts that nearly always makes a loser of the state's voters. 

There must be a better way. 

It's time to demand that lawmakers find one. 

Redistricting is performed after every 10-year census to account for population changes. Ideally, districts would be drawn to be unified geographic areas with relatively equal populations and competitive party politics. 

But when lawmakers get hold of the redrawing they contrive weirdly shaped districts to ensure their party has control of the majority of districts and to enhance job security for incumbents. 

The effect is to allow lawmakers to pick their voters rather than vice versa. 

With huge political advantage at stake, it's hardly surprising that every Wisconsin redistricting since 1931 has ended up in the courts, which are ill-equipped to draw voting districts. 

There are better options. For example, in Iowa a nonpartisan agency submits a redistricting plan to lawmakers. The agency, called the Legislative Services Bureau, is prohibited from using political affiliation, previous election results, addresses of incumbents or any demographic information other than population numbers. 

Three public hearings are required. Lawmakers can reject the plan. The bureau then tries again. 

Redistricting reform has been pushed in Wisconsin before. The latest plan, by Rep. Frederick Kessler, D-Milwaukee, proposes a complex formula to require party competitiveness. 

Almost any reform would be an improvement. But Wisconsin should aim for a plan that assigns redistricting to a nonpartisan organization. That's the best way to make sure redistricting is in the interests of voters, not politicians.

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