(Image by Morgaine Ford-Workman)
(Image by Morgaine Ford-Workman)

Taking redistricting control away from politicians would pave the way for Wisconsin to have fair, competitive elections for the next decade, advocates say.

Wisconsin fair maps activists spent Tuesday lobbying the state Legislature to take the redistricting process out of the Republican-led Legislature’s hands—which in 2011 made Wisconsin one of the most gerrymandered states in the union—paving the way for Wisconsin to have fair, competitive maps for the next decade.

Constituents in teams of three, based on district, were scheduled to meet with their legislators virtually Monday afternoon to voice their support for nonpartisan redistricting and a fair redrawing of the district maps this year. 

Nonpartisan redistricting has received a groundswell of bipartisan support, with 55 counties passing resolutions supporting fair maps. A 2019 Marquette poll found that 72% of Wisconsinites support a nonpartisan commission redrawing the state’s district boundaries. 

Sachin Chheda, director and cofounder of the Fair Elections Project, laid out specific goals for the day’s lobbying effort: First, push legislators to hold a hearing and a vote on bills that would abdicate district redrawing to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) and a Redistricting Advisory Commission. The bills, which were introduced by Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) and Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick), are similar to bills introduced in previous legislative sessions going as far back as 2014.

Those bills are stuck in committee, while those committees have taken on such pressing issues as incorporating cursive writing into school curricula.

Second, since the Republican-led Legislature is unlikely to vote in favor of handing over the redistricting process to the LRB, Chheda said it should take up the maps that will be produced by the nonpartisan People’s Maps Commission.

Sachin Chheda, director and cofounder Fair Elections Project, speaks in favor of nonpartisan redistricting during a legislative lobbying day. (Screenshot via WisEye)

“I don’t want to call it a nonpartisan body because some of the people on the commission do identify as Democrats, some identify as Republicans,” Chheda said. “But they are truly committed to the idea of a nonpartisan system to create fair maps.”

Despite not knowing what the maps created by the commission will look like, Chheda said he still endorses them because he has “faith in the process.” 

“Because the process is nonpartisan,” Chheda said. “Because the process is transparent.”

Fighting the Joint Resolution 

The group also planned to lobby legislators to vote against a joint resolution that would require future maps deviate as little as possible from the current, heavily gerrymandered, maps. The bill was introduced by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) after the Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would hear the redistricting lawsuit brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

RELATED: Republican State Legislators Introduce Resolution Aimed at Retaining Their Gerrymandered Majority

Chheda pointed out that under normal circumstances, the joint resolution would be logical, but said “the reason it isn’t logical in 2021 in Wisconsin right now, right here, in the real world, is that in 2011, the Republicans rigged the maps.” 

State Republicans have argued that the issue isn’t the maps, but that Democrats haven’t had strong legislative candidates or campaigns for legislative seats and have a strong disadvantage outside of Madison and Milwaukee. Chheda said that argument doesn’t bear out in the data. 

“All of that is a lie. It isn’t true,” Chheda said. “The data analysis done in the [Gil v.] Whitford case said that the geographic distribution of Republicans and Democrats is really close to equal. In fact, Republicans may have a slight advantage, but it’s about 2%, not 10, 11, or 13% as we saw in the efficiency gap of the maps in the last decade.”

“​​They disrupted our districts as much as they possibly could in order to rig the maps and now they’re saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t change the maps a ton. You should only  change the maps as little as you have to  [in order to] get equal population,’” Chheda said. “Well, if you’ve already rigged the maps once, then what you’re doing is you’re baking in that gerrymander forever.”