Congressional cakewalks cheat voters in Wisconsin

GUEST OPINION

TWO OF IOWA’S FOUR congressional districts were competitive in last week’s election.

Iowa’s 1st and 2nd districts were decided by 2.4 and 5 percentage points, respectively. And Iowa’s 3rd District was won by 10.6 percentage points.

None of Wisconsin’s eight congressional races were as close as that.

In fact, even an open seat in Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District - pitting the state Senate’s most conservative member against a moderate Democrat - didn’t produce a real contest. State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-Campbellsport, defeated Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris by a 16-point difference to replace the retiring and moderate U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac.

Wisconsin’s closest race for Congress among eight contests was in the 3rd District, in which U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, easily defeated his GOP opponent by 14 percentage points - despite a Republican wave of victories across the nation.

So why is Iowa so much more competitive, giving its voters real choices? The answer is relatively simple: Iowa doesn’t let its politicians rig voting districts to favor one political party or the other.

Iowa assigns the task of drawing congressional districts to a nonpartisan state agency. So its maps are neat and fair. All of Iowa’s congressional district boundaries follow county lines, and neutral mapmakers are forbidden from considering the impact on incumbents.

In sharp contrast, Wisconsin’s redistricting process after each major census is marked by partisan scheming. Top lawmakers in the majority party huddle in secret with computers to analyze and shape legislative districts to their party’s favor, based on past voting results.

Often this means the incumbents of both major political parties gain safer seats. That’s because the majority party tries to pack as many of the opposition party’s voters into seats the majority party hasn’t traditionally won. That leaves any remaining competitive seats leaning the majority party’s way, helping it to stay in power.

This is easiest to see at the congressional level.

Rather than following county lines, as Iowa’s four district boundaries do, Wisconsin’s congressional districts snake all over the map, contorting into odd shapes.

After the 2010 census, for example, majority Republicans surgically removed the Democratic-leaning cities of Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids from the 7th Congressional District, making it easier for vulnerable freshman U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, to hold his seat in 2012. Despite a huge year for Democrats in statewide races that year, Duffy beat a well-known state senator and former television anchor by 12 percentage points. And in last week’s election, Duffy won by 20 points.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kind also benefited from the change. Kind’s 3rd District gained the Democratic turf that Duffy lost. So Kind just won re-election by 14 percentage points, despite last week’s Republican wave. Back in 2010 - before the maps were redrawn - Kind won by just 4 points.

Yet Republicans are happy because they still hold a 5-3 advantage on House seats, which is unlikely to change.

Wisconsin should adopt Iowa’s nonpartisan process for drawing voting districts.

Top Republican lawmakers remain adamantly opposed. But bipartisan support is growing for this good-government reform. — Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 9

At issue:
Partisanly-drawn districts
Bottom line:
Disservice to all voters


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