Re­dis­trict­ing rul­ing puts onus on states

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - ERIN GRUNZE

Par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing has long ex­as­per­ated the U.S. Supreme Court, as its June 18 rul­ing in the case known as Gill v. Whit­ford at­tests.

The court found the plain­tiffs did not have suf­fi­cient stand­ing to chal­lenge statewide dis­trict maps. The plain­tiffs claimed the maps were drawn to min­i­mize the po­lit­i­cal power of the op­po­si­tion party, thus cre­at­ing an il­le­gal ger­ry­man­der.

Politi­cians from both par­ties have long used ger­ry­man­der­ing to ben­e­fit their op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­draw voter bound­aries fol­low­ing each de­cen­nial cen­sus.

In 2011, Wis­con­sin’s re­dis­trict­ing process was car­ried out by one party in a rushed, se­cre­tive and lop­sided way, re­sult­ing in rigged maps that have di­min­ished com­pet­i­tive elec­tions, de­creased law­mak­ers’ re­spon­sive­ness to their con­stituents and in­creased hy­per-par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion.

My group, the League of Women Vot­ers of Wis­con­sin, filed a brief in the Gill v. Whit­ford case urg­ing the jus­tices to af­firm the lower-court rul­ing that the Wis­con­sin’s leg­isla­tive dis­tricts were un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause of par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing. We showed how the 2011 re­dis­trict­ing has led to more ex­treme leg­is­la­tion than would be ex­pected from a more typ­i­cal shift in power from one party to an­other. The 2011 re­dis­trict­ing has also led to lit­i­ga­tion, that has cost tax­pay­ers more than $2 mil­lion.

Since the 1970s, the league has ad­vo­cated for an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to re­draw vot­ing maps so leg­is­la­tors can’t “choose their vot­ers.” In the 1980s, the league sup­ported a Repub­li­can pro­posal to achieve non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing, and in re­cent ses­sions we have sup­ported leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced by the Democrats for the same pur­pose.

In its rul­ing in Gill v. Whit­ford, the court did not de­cide the mer­its of the case, but rather sent the case back to a lower court for fur­ther re­view. The court also de­clined to is­sue a rul­ing on the mer­its in an­other re­dis­trict­ing case in Mary­land.

In the mean­time, the onus is on the states to curb abuses through leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

One model for states to con­sider comes from Iowa, where the state’s non­par­ti­san Leg­isla­tive Services Agency has de­vel­oped a re­dis­trict­ing plan ev­ery 10 years since 1981. The Iowa leg­is­la­ture has al­ways ap­proved the first or sec­ond it­er­a­tion of the re­drawn map. There has been no lit­i­ga­tion, so the state has saved mil­lions of dollars in lawyer fees. And Iowa has many more com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts, giv­ing vot­ers more choice. This model is re­spon­si­ble, ef­fi­cient and in­ex­pen­sive.

Ul­ti­mately, par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing does noth­ing to help democ­racy. In­stead, it only pro­tects the po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests of the party in power. Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans have used this tac­tic over the years to con­sol­i­date power and keep vot­ers from hav­ing a truly fair say in choos­ing their gov­ern­men­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The Gill v. Whit­ford de­ci­sion is frus­trat­ing in that it was a wasted op­por­tu­nity for the Supreme Court to set a stan­dard to make elec­tions fairer. For­tu­nately, it leaves the door open for fu­ture lit­i­ga­tion and a more fa­vor­able judg­ment.

And states, in­clud­ing Wis­con­sin, can still right this wrong. So far, more than half of Wis­con­sin’s 72 coun­ties have passed res­o­lu­tions in sup­port of a non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing process. Yet cur­rent leg­isla­tive lead­ers have never even al­lowed these bills to have a hear­ing, let alone a vote.

Law­mak­ers need to be ac­count­able to vot­ers and sup­port leg­is­la­tion that will take the power of map draw­ing out of par­ti­san con­trol and give it to an in­de­pen­dent body, with plenty of pub­lic in­put, in the in­ter­est of fair­ness and democ­racy.

Erin Grunze is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the League of Women Vot­ers of Wis­con­sin. This col­umn was writ­ten for the Pro­gres­sive Me­dia Project, which is run by The Pro­gres­sive mag­a­zine.

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