After a lack of competitiveness in many Wisconsin races this fall, some are calling for redistricting reform to be done in the upcoming legislative session, years in advance of the next redistricting cycle.
Every 10 years, the Legislature is in charge of drawing new maps that reflect population changes studied in the decennial census. With the latest round of redistricting ending up in the courts again and many races not being competitive, various groups are calling for the process to be reformed.
An analysis from Common Cause in Wisconsin found only one race was competitive in the state Senate, which the Republicans took back with an 18-15 majority. The group found only 14 competitive races out of the 99 total in the Assembly, where Republicans will have a 60-39 majority.
Although he noted there have never been many competitive races in the state, Jay Heck, the group’s executive director, said last year’s redistricting process made that problem worse.
“Voters now have virtually no say as to who represents them in Madison and in Washington, D.C.,” Heck concluded in a statement announcing the group’s findings.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Heck said Democrats would have likely drawn maps to their advantage as well if they had been in control. He called redistricting reform a “win-win” for both parties and something that would restore citizen confidence in state government.
The state’s two largest newspapers have recently written editorials calling for reforms. Two weeks ago, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board did so after noting all congressional races were won by double-digit margins. This weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board encouraged legislators to begin discussing reforms.
The last legislative session saw bills tackling redistricting reform by giving the power to either a non-partisan agency or to an independent commission appointed by law.
“Both ideas are worth debating — and one of them should be adopted,” the Journal Sentinel editorial board said Saturday. “The timing might be right. There is plenty of time between now and the next census. Most members of the Legislature — and probably the Governor — will not be in office when the new rules would take effect.”
Both reforms have worked in other states, according to University of Wisconsin political science professor and redistricting expert David Canon. He said Wisconsin’s current system is “broken,” and either reform would be a large improvement over the current process.
Last year, Democrats introduced a bill that would follow the first route and hand the Legislature’s constitutionally-given power of redistricting to the Legislative Reference Bureau and the Government Accountability Board, whose maps would then be voted on in the Legislature.
Although that bill had no Republican co-sponsors, an independent commission bill saw support from members of both parties. That bill would set up a commission whose maps voters could approve or deny in a referendum. If rejected, the state Supreme Court would then be in charge of making maps.
As the latter bill proposes an amendment to the state’s Constitution rather than delegating the Legislature’s constitutional power to an agency, it would have to be voted on by two consecutive Legislatures and be approved by voters.