Fair Maps Debunked

Every ten years following the census, new legislative districts are redrawn to ensure members of respective legislative bodies represent a roughly equal number of voters. This process is commonly known as reapportionment or redistricting. New boundaries are approved at the federal level with congressional districts as well as at the state, county and municipal level.   

Federally, the U.S. House of Representatives consist of 435 districts each with roughly equal populations.  Together, the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the United States Senate represent our federal legislative branch collectively and commonly known as ‘Congress.’ Heavily populated states likewise are allotted more representation and more votes in congress. California has the most seats in the House of Representatives with fifty-three members, soon to be fifty-two after the results of the 2020 Census. At minimum, each state is represented by at least one congressional district, plus two United States Senators. Several rural and sparsely populated states such as Wyoming and North Dakota have only one federal house district.

As populations shift or change, so too can the number or districts within any given state. Wisconsin currently has eight congressional districts. Prior to the 2000 census the Badger State had nine districts. In Wisconsin, the legislature consisted of 33 state senate seats and 99 state house or ‘assembly’ seats.

Given the balance of power of legislative bodies in states and in Washington D.C., the battle over who draws new district boundaries is more often than not a heavily politicized process. In most states including Wisconsin, the state legislature per their respective state constitutions have primary control over crafting new maps. This is not to say that the legislature has full control; Proponents of so-called ‘Fair Maps’ would lead us to believe that the legislature has sole authority of their boundaries but these alarmists are leaving out critical parts of the equation, perhaps on purpose to deceive voters. 

Far and wide, legislators in the minority and their liberal activists have decried the current system of reapportionment despite the fact that it’s codified in our state constitution. Yes, constitutions can be amended but the threshold to do so is intentionally high for good reasons. Wisconsin Democrats have been coercing county boards to submit resolutions on Fair Maps ,and have been mounted a full-throated and well-funded campaign to sway public opinion. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) has gone so far as to appoint an advisory commission to assist in drafting new boundaries, a rich idea considering the hyper-partisan Evers hand-picked the ‘non-partisan’ members of this commission. In reality, as its name suggests, the board is only ‘advisory’ and has zero say in the process and most likely will be completely ignored by a Republican-led state legislature.

In considering the notion of Fair Maps one might deduct that the fairest system of all is the one currently in place. “Representatives shouldn’t pick their voters” is the cry of the left-leaning Fair Maps advocates. But one critical fact is being overlooked; the state legislative is just one lever of power in this process.  The legislature is comprised of representatives in districts that change every ten years, but state boundaries do not change. Three additional levers of power in the reapportionment process are comprised of elected officials picked by voters in statewide races.

Indeed, the first step of the process is the crafting of new boundaries approved by a majority of the 33 state senators and a majority of the 99 state assembly members. But, as with any bill or piece of legislation, the legislature-approved plan must also be signed by the executive branch (the Governor). An exception would exist if the bill passes the legislature with a veto-proof majority. Currently, Republicans have a strong majority but not enough votes to override an Evers veto of their proposed redistricting lines. In short, while Evers doesn’t get to submit a plan for new districts, he has near equal authority in the process as the legislature due to his veto power.    

If there is an impasse between the legislative and executive branches (likely, considering the current partisan split), the proposed new maps will be challenged in the courts, or judicial branch. What Fair Maps advocates again fail to mention is that justices on both our Wisconsin State Supreme Court are selected by voters statewide and therefore aren’t subject or influenced by redistricting or gerrymandering.  At the state level, our justices are chosen by voters in statewide elections. U.S. Supreme Court justices are nominated by the President of the United States but must pass confirmation by the United States Senate.  Members of the Senate are chosen in statewide elections. If voters don’t agree with the decision of the SCOTUS then they can elect a new POTUS and elect new United States Senators in hopes of changing future courts. Our founders put this system of checks and balances among co-equal branches in place to ensure a high threshold for passage of critical issues and to eliminate corruption that might occur with true gerrymandering. 

Perhaps the deeper issue with Fair Maps has to do with simple politics. Typically the party in the minority is the party crying foul and demanding we amend the state constitution. Gerrymandering has always been the common accusation to cover for losing candidates or minority party’s inability to connect with voters. 

Past election cycles show a clear trend; liberal voters are congregating in urban areas of the country, while rural areas are getting more conservative. This is likely both a cause-and-effect of increasing polarization between Republicans and Democrats.  While there are still many ‘swing’ districts at the state and federal level, candidates who run to the far-left or far-right in these districts usually come up short at the ballot box. Good candidates will recognize the temperature of the voters in their district and must be willing to buck their party from time-to-time, especially on issues that seem extreme. 

Northern Wisconsin is no different. Historically, the area was a reliable Democrat stronghold. But shifts in voter sentiment, changes in major policy positions of the parties, and consolidation of voters of certain ideologies in rural or urban areas as previously mentioned have resulted in a seismic political shift. In 2016, the Trump/Pence ticket won 90% of the 715 voting wards in the 7th Congressional District. The once blue east-west regions along highways 8 and 29 are now some of the reddest areas in the state. The issue for Democrats in these districts has little to do with gerrymandering and everything to do with the candidate’s platform. Aligning oneself with the likes of Planned Parenthood and against the National Rifle Association is a kiss of death for any Democrat in rural America. Likewise, conservative Republicans’ chances of flipping seats in liberal Dane County are slim to none.

Fair Map advocates clearly are aware of how the current reapportionment system works in Wisconsin. We shouldn’t allow them to selectively edit out important facts and intentionally deceive voters. At minimum, four levers of power need to approve any new state and congressional maps in Wisconsin; the legislature, Governor, State, and U.S. Supreme Court. Any of the four can reject proposals, sending the legislature back to the drawing board. Three of the four levers are selected by voters in statewide races not subjected to gerrymandering. The alternative calls for a process where unelected and partisan bureaucrats would yield massive amounts of power in this critical process. Voters should always be in charge and have the ability to vote those representatives out for whom they disagree with. It begs the question, what is not ‘fair’ with our current system?