Recent developments in a Wisconsin redistricting lawsuit suggest that Republicans may have something to hide. After a group of Democrats and the immigrant rights organization Voces De La Frontera successfully sued Republican legislators on the grounds that the processes used in drawing district lines were unconstitutional, federal judges ordered that the defendant grant access to computers containing redistricting documents. According to the court opinion, these documents were “likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed during pretrial discovery.”
However, upon forensic investigation, it was discovered that thousands of redistricting files ordered to be turned over in the lawsuit were deleted by Tad Ottman, a legislative aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Ottman coincidentally removed these important files around the same time Democrats gained control of the senate in the summer recall elections. According to Ottman, the files were deleted because the computer containing these documents was moved from the offices of Michael Best & Friedrich, the law firm that worked in collaboration with Republican legislators to redraw district lines, to an area at the Capitol accessible to interns and the general public. He was unable to explain, however, why his external hard drive, which backed up the redistricting files, was corrupted, therefore making the documents inaccessible.
Since the beginning of the case, Republicans have been extremely reluctant to release redistricting documents – and for good reason. If documents are discovered that have importance to the lawsuit, it could reopen the case, which in turn could call into question the issue of where gerrymandered district lines are drawn. Additionally, the Michael Best law firm could suffer consequences if documents are found to have been improperly withheld. Thus, it appears that Republicans have a lot to lose and a lot to hide.
As a citizen and Wisconsinite, it is my expectation that my government should act in a way that is fair, transparent and in accordance with the law. Yet these latest findings show that Republican legislators favor redrawing district lines to benefit their partisan agenda over responding to the needs of Wisconsinites and abiding by the law. Ottman’s reasoning for deleting the documents is in itself corrupt and not excusable. As previously stated, our government should be transparent, meaning that it shouldn’t matter whether interns or the general public have access to the files. In fact, that is exactly how our government should operate – that is, in such a way that the public can see what the government officials are doing and hold them accountable for their actions.
An even greater issue is the fact that many of the redrawn districts, which overwhelmingly favor Republicans, are still intact. When district lines are drawn unfairly, it’s ultimately the people who pay the price, as gerrymandering reduces the accountability of politicians to their constituents. Looking forward, we must not only demand accountability for the elimination of redistricting files that have reduced government transparency and created unnecessary obstacles to the lawsuit, but we also need to advocate for a long term solution to partisan gerrymandering. States like Arizona and Iowa have addressed this issue by creating bipartisan redistricting commissions to draw district lines in a fair and appropriate manner. But as long as our current system stands, elections will not be decided by the needs and concerns of the people but by which party draws the district lines.
Our government has an obligation to us as citizens, taxpayers and Wisconsinites to respond to our needs as constituents and maintain transparency and fairness. Therefore, this blatant effort by Republicans to cover up their corrupt redistricting practices not only violates the law but also breaks the foundational commitment and trust between politicians and their constituents.
Jacob Riederer ([email protected]) is the communications director for the College Democrats of Madison.