By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Over the past few elections one of the most talked about issues is gerrymandering. The act of gerrymandering occurs when district lines within a state are reapportioned to favor one political party over another. The end result being that one political party gains the upper hand when it comes to the number of seats in congress thus affecting state decisions.
When it comes to gerrymandering, Wisconsin is no stranger. Earlier this week, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes visited Madison, Kenosha, Wausau and Wauwatosa to discuss the Governor’s plan to counter partisan redistricting.
Data from the November 2018 election demonstrated how gerrymandering and partisan redistricting affected Wisconsin. When it came to the State Assembly, Democrats won the popular vote by 54% and Republicans came in with 46%. However, when it came to the number of seats won Democrats only gained 36% and Republicans won 64%.
During his 2020 state of the union address, Evers spoke on his want to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. In Madison, on Monday, Jan. 27, Evers signed an executive order officially creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, elected officials, public officials, lobbyists and political party members are not allowed to be a part of the commission. Nonpartisan experts and residents from the eight congressional districts will make up the group.
Barnes spoke at the press conference in Wauwatosa after attending the one in Kenosha. He said that people have been very clear in their want for nonpartisan maps.
“It’s something that could easily be done,” he said. “But the legislature is another area where the majority party chooses not to act and chooses not to respond to the will of the people.”
The majority’s decision to ignore the people’s wants can only go on for so long, Barnes said. He acknowledged that a lot of people in the community have been fighting this issue for a long time.
The issue isn’t unique to one party or another. Both sides do gerrymander even though they shouldn’t and now is the time to put an end to it, he said. It directly affects people of color and other underrepresented communities, Barnes said.
“We’re here because the system is broken,” he said. “It’s not working because common sense isn’t making its way through the legislature.”
However, he noted that the will of the people is in favor of nonpartisan redistricting and that’s what matters in a democracy. The job and responsibility of elected officials is to make sure that everyone in the state has the opportunity to choose their elected officials.
Gerrymandering rips away the power of the people and puts it in the hands of the select few, Barnes said.
State Rep. Robyn Vining (District 14) also spoke at the press conference. Last July, she introduced the Fair Maps bill which received support from both sides of the aisle although it hasn’t received a public hearing or vote.
She praised Evers’ creation of the People’s Maps Commission. Vining explained that the commission will be required to draw fair maps. Partisan groups, who often draw their maps in secret, will have to compare their map to the commission’s map.
It’ll be the standard for all other maps and cost less, with the People’s Maps coming in at about $10,000 compared to the $2 million spent last time on partisan maps, she said. Furthermore, the legislature will still have to vote on the maps.
“What we are doing here is delivering what the people have asked for – the People’s Maps,” she said.
Kathy Ehley, the mayor of Wauwatosa, added that part of the issue is the census, which will begin in April. People need to be educated on what the data collected from the census does, she said, adding that it helps inform redistricting. The last time redistricting took place, it was done behind closed doors and that can’t happen again, she said.
It’s a big concern for the people, who want a fair and nonpartisan map, she said.
Once census data collection is complete, the people’s maps commission will be able to draw a map that best represents the state of Wisconsin.
“We know that fair maps will provide the equal representation that every person in the state deserves,” Barnes said.