Last week, Republican lawyers were ordered by a federal judge to release 34 emails regarding the redistricting process. The court has already ruled two state assembly districts in Milwaukee were drawn inappropriately. The law firm Republican lawmakers contracted to redraw the districts has already been fined $17,500.
This only goes to show that when redistricting is left in the hands of partisans, the districts will not be drawn fairly. The State of Wisconsin should abandon partisan redistricting by creating a bipartisan independent commission to redraw districts every ten years.
Partisan redistricting is harmful to democracy. The democratic process is corrupted when elected officials handpick their own electorate. When partisans are allowed to draw their own districts, citizens’ ability to hold elected officials accountable for their actions is weakened. The party with a majority is able to govern as it sees fit, but this doesn’t mean it should continuously rig elections in order to remain in power.
Gerrymandering is a form of election rigging. If you control who votes in your district, you often control who wins the election. If pockets of Democratic or Republican voters are deliberately split up to eliminate that party’s seat, it is a form of election theft. Unfortunately, partisan redistricting almost always leads to gerrymandering. This is unfair to citizens, and the best way to avoid it is to take district drawing out of the hands of partisans.
Some states have created bipartisan commissions made up of legislators to redistrict. This is not a proper solution to the problem because it inevitably leads to bipartisan gerrymandering. Election rigging is no better when it is done by both parties than when one party does it. Redistricting should be completely devoid of politics.
The state of Wisconsin should create an independent bipartisan commission to redistrict. This system has already been employed by six states, mostly in the western U.S. The commission should be made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, along with some number of independents who are not in elected office. This will minimize the influence of incumbents in the process and make the results of our elections fair, rather than the outcome of a biased map.
Nonpartisan redistricting will create a stronger democracy because it will remove a bias toward incumbents. It will presumably make elections more competitive, meaning legislators will have greater accountability. Parties may become less extreme because the districts will be less homogeneous. Politicians will be forced to run centrist campaigns.
It may even facilitate compromise and better yet, more efficient government. At least 85% of congressional districts in America are not competitive, and competitive elections incentivize bipartisanship because if you have a competitive district, citizens with an opposing political philosophy must vote for you if you want to be elected.
Gerrymandering is perhaps the most effective legal way of manipulating elections. It is an unethical process that is destructive to our democracy – putting the redistricting process in the hands of politicians incentivizes corruption. Gerrymandering amounts to legal theft of elections, and though this process is almost as old as the union itself, it will serve us all greatly to get rid of it.
An independent bipartisan redistricting process will hold elected officials accountable for their actions because they will be unable to place bias on their own electorate. We must take legislators’ electoral fate out of their own hands – otherwise, we allow ourselves to be used. Fair elections are essential to democracy, and as long as gerrymandering is legal, our elections are not fair.
Spencer Lindsay ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.