Iowa model right one for drawing fair districts

A PANEL OF JUDGES stated the obvious last month in striking down Wisconsin’s voting district maps as unconstitutional.

The rigged legislative maps, drawn by top Republican lawmakers and their high-priced attorneys in 2011, were a “partisan gerrymander” that favored the GOP in swing seats while packing Democratic voters into a minority of seats they were likely to win anyway.

“It’s clear the drafters got what they intended to get,” wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ senior judge appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan. “There is no question (the legislative maps were) designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats.”

In 2012, the GOP got 48.6 percent of the statewide vote yet won 60 of 99 seats in the state Assembly. In 2014, the Republicans collected 52 percent of the vote and won 63 Assembly seats.

Democrats received 51.4 percent of the vote in 2012 but only won 39 Assembly seats, and two years later the Democrats won just 36 seats despite receiving 48 percent of the vote.

Some of the disparity for Democrats results from the high concentration of Democratic-leaning voters living in Madison and Milwaukee. But that doesn’t explain the highly partisan and unconstitutional effect of Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn maps, Ripple wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and other Republican leaders still feign innocence, as if they didn’t skew key districts to their party’s favor. That’s a joke. They specifically calculated how their candidates would do under various versions of the maps, picking the option that was best for their party.

We wouldn’t trust the Democrats to draw the lines fairly, either. That’s why a nonpartisan process is needed so neither party can thwart the will of voters.

The judges did not say what should happen because of their ruling. Instead, the court ordered both sides in the legal case to suggest an appropriate remedy within 30 days.

The obvious fix is for Wisconsin to adopt a fair process for redrawing voting districts similar to Iowa’s neutral system. Rather than letting the politicians scheme in secret with historical voting data and elaborate computer software to draw maps to their partisan advantage, Iowa assigns the once-everydecade task of redrawing lines based on population changes to a nonpartisan state agency. The agency is required to draw legislative districts as compact as possible, respecting communities of interest while ignoring the fate of politicians. Yet lawmakers still must vote to approve the maps, without making changes.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Iowa both support this nonpartisan process. Iowa avoids spending millions in taxpayer dollars defending their maps in court — money Fitzgerald and the GOP have been liberally spending in Wisconsin for years.

Most important, Iowa voters enjoy much more competition for legislative seats. Voters get more choice on ballots, which lets them hold lawmakers more accountable for state decisions.

The only people hurt by a nonpartisan process are the entrenched politicians of both political parties, most of whom now enjoy easy re-elections in Wisconsin.

Top lawmakers should finally agree to a neutral process that’s constitutional and treats all voters fairly. — Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 27

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