Fair Maps Can Cross the Aisle
Hawthorn McCracken, WFU Communications Intern
Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.
On Tuesday, July 14th, Wisconsin Farmers Union held a virtual Fair Maps Town Hall. The meeting featured the premiere of a video highlighting the issue of fair maps, as well as a presentation and Q&A with Matt Rothschild, Executive Director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. This free online gathering was well-attended, with over 150 active participants. Attendees and organizers from all over the state shared their concerns and questions. Those who tuned in learned about multiple action items and resources to continue advocating for fair maps in their area.
The video, which can be found on WFU’s YouTube channel, highlights the dramatic impact of gerrymandering in the state. Through simple visualizations and data, it illustrates the recent history of Wisconsin’s partisan districts, the issues they cause for constituents of all political parties, and how voters can advocate for change.
Our current district maps were drawn up in 2011 by a Republican-majority assembly, but even some Republicans at the time questioned the methods of the mapping team. Instead of an open session at the statehouse, lawmakers gathered in a private law office, locking doors to any representatives who weren’t part of the commission. Both Republicans and Democrats have spoken out against the hyper-partisan districts in our state, and many have taken legal action. In a 2016 suit organized by the Fair Elections Project, the United States Supreme Court found our state’s legislative districts to be unconstitutional. It was ruled, however, that the higher courts had no authority to reallocate power in the state, and the case was sent back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Since then, little has changed for our gerrymandered maps.
But popular support for nonpartisan redistricting has grown substantially over the last few years. 72% of all voters in Wisconsin favor nonpartisan redistricting, including 63% of Republicans and 76% of independents. A grassroots coalition has been pushing for support of this issue across the state, and as of April 2020, 51 counties have endorsed fair maps, with 17 having passed a fair maps referendum. As Matt Rothschild said in his presentation, “there are not 51 blue counties in Wisconsin.” This issue affects all Wisconsin voters and is particularly important for those working to bridge the rural-urban divide and advocate for shared values across the political aisle.
Gerrymandered maps mean that elected officials don’t hear from their constituents. Neighbors are divided along arbitrary lines. People who send their kids to the same schools don’t share state representatives. In many districts, incumbents run unopposed year after year, and new potential representatives are discouraged from running. Partisan districts disempower residents, misrepresent the desires of the people, and have cost taxpayers over 4 million dollars in the past 10 years. Even conservative voters can agree that these hyper-partisan maps are costing taxpayers too much money, as well as eroding local control of counties and townships. Recently, 5 Republican state representatives have broken from the party line to join in the call for nonpartisan redistricting.
So what’s next? Fair maps advocates are looking to Iowa’s mapping system as a guide for how Wisconsin could reform our districts. The models used in Iowa exclude any political demographic data and instead rely on non partisan factors like population, county and town borders, and land area contiguity to draw districts. An advisory group put together by Governor Tony Evers, the People’s Maps Commission, is working to collect voter input and educate the public on fair maps. Wisconsin residents can apply to participate in the commission or attend hearings by visiting https://govstatus.egov.com/.
New districts will be drawn in 2021, and it’s vital for voters to voice their support for nonpartisan redistricting in the upcoming year. Here are some action steps shared at the meeting that anyone can take:
Voice your support for nonpartisan redistricting on social media
If you live in one of the 20 counties that has not yet passed a resolution or referendum, organize locally to have your county join the movement for fair maps.
Call your state legislators and any candidates running in your district to ask if they support nonpartisan redistricting.
Sign the pledge at https://www.fairmapswi.com/voterpledge to vote only for representatives who support fair maps
View and share Wisconsin Farmers Union’s video to help spread the word
Encourage friends and neighbors to get involved and join WFU and the Fair Maps Coalition
To learn more about the history of gerrymandering in our state, as well as how you can participate in the Fair Maps Coalition check out https://www.fairmapswi.com/. Read publications and learn more about Wisconsin Democracy Campaign at https://www.wisdc.org/.You can also find more information on how civic engagement and policymaking affect rural residents and farmers at https://www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com/. WFU provides support for members and farmers looking to make change and organize at the local, state, and national levels, and has put together advocacy toolkits around fair maps and other policy issues.