Advocates of voter redistricting reform held a public hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, calling on the Legislature to pass the Redistricting Reform Act, which would make redistricting a nonpartisan process.
Every 10 years, lawmakers redraw voter district lines to reflect changes in the state’s population. Under current redistricting laws, the majority party in Congress determines district maps.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said the bill’s writers modeled the legislation after the Iowa system of nonpartisan redistricting. The Redistricting Reform Act would require the Legislative Reference Bureau and Government Accountability Board to preside over the redistricting process.
“The basic idea is the voters are given a chance to chose their politicians, not that politicians choose their voters,” said Hulsey, who co-sponsored the bill.
The proposed agencies would be responsible for maintaining certain standards in the redistricting process, including electoral competition within districts. The only direct role for legislators would be to approve and ratify new district maps.
The proposed bill would require the standard of electoral competitiveness be part of criteria when the LRB and GAB are forming their submission to be approved by the legislature.
Republican lawmakers have also reached an alternative solution to partisan redistricting, which would take the form of a constitutional amendment.
A Senate Joint Resolution has also been drawn by Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janseville, and will be introduced later this week.
“This is not a Democratic bill or a Republican bill, it’s about fairness,” said Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison. “It’s about the right of the voters to have a meaningful voice in democracy.”
If passed, the Redistricting Reform Act would not take effect until 2021, after the next census.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said after experiencing two prior redistricting processes, now is the perfect time to consider redistricting changes.
“One of the lessons we have learned from the past when we have tried to do redistricting is that it involves too much politics,” Pocan said. “Legislators have very short attention spans, and that’s a problem.”
Pocan also cited the failed partisan redistricting procedures of Texas and Florida, states that have had to go to court to settle redistricting disputes.
Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group currently pursuing a lawsuit challenging the state’s current process, said at the hearing Tuesday the reform is important because open meeting laws and the state constitution were violated in original drafting.
“Regardless of which political party is in office or in majority, this process would ensure that efforts to gerrymander districts for partisan interests is minimized,” Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said.
Mike McCabe of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said Republicans may have violated the open records law. He said after forming redistricting plans in private, Republican lawmakers signed legal agreements permitting them to withhold the maps from Democrats and the public.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed an open records request last summer but has yet to receive a response from either house.
“[The] bottom line is that legislators have been told to ignore the public,” McCabe said.