Elections in America should be an opportunity for the people to choose their elected representatives. It does not do justice to the people of Wisconsin and of the United States for the legislators to be choosing their constituents. But the current system of partisan “redistricting” does just that – it allows politicians to carve out turf strictly for the benefit of their party and for the protection of incumbents. It hurts democracy, it makes elections-by-district non-competitive, and it takes choice away from the citizens.
The last redistricting in Wisconsin – a particularly outrageous example – was done in secret, without public hearings, by a private contractor chosen by and for the bosses of one political party, with no competitive bidding, and with no instructions to serve the interests of the people of Wisconsin. Wisconsin redistricting has long been under partisan control of one or both of the two major parties. In other words, redistricting here has always been done by and for the Republican party organization and/or the Democratic Party organization. Independent voters and other political parties have no say at all. With partisan control of the election rules and redistricting processes, the interests of the two dominant parties comes above and before everything else (including free and fair competitive elections and good government). But at least redistricting has previously been done from the grassroots up, in public view and with public input, and based on the concept of local control and the now quaint belief that local communities and local people know their own districts best. The redistricting process was, in the past, begun in local communities throughout the state, and it proceeded, subject to open meetings and full disclosure requirements, to completion.
This time, however, the political party that happened to have complete control of the redistricting process following the 2010 Census decided to disregard the principle of local control, and also to evade any public oversight of the methods being employed to arrive at the new election districts that would be imposed on Wisconsin for the next decade. The party leaders did this by simply and cleverly privatizing the redistricting process and choosing a contractor that would do just as expected. Since a deeply flawed legal theory holds that private, for-profit corporations possess the Constitutional rights of a “person”, this contractor (and the partisan officials that selected and directed it) assert that the methods they used to redistrict us are their “proprietary secrets” and do not even ever have to be disclosed to the public. In other words, exactly how and why this partisan contractor determined the new district lines in Wisconsin has been kept a secret from the people. Adding insult to this injury, the partisan contractor’s services cost over 2 million dollars, which was paid for by all the taxpayers of Wisconsin, not just by the political party that selected the private contractor.
What were the results of that redistricting? Three legislative elections that are subject to periodic redistricting were at stake in the 2012 general election. And the 2012 general election was the first election to occur that was subject to the redistricting that followed the 2010 national census.
In the 2012 general election, 61 percent of the Wisconsin state Assembly candidates (mostly incumbents) that won election were members of the political party that controlled and conducted the redistricting process that preceded the election, despite the fact that a clear majority of Wisconsin voters (53%) selected candidates from the other major party to represent them in the state Assembly.
The state Senate, and all of it’s committees, are now completely under the control of the leaders of the party that controlled the redistricting process, despite the fact that only 46 percent of the people voting in 2012 voted for state senate candidates from that party to represent them.
The election for the House of Representatives was more closely divided in 2012 in Wisconsin. 50 percent of voters selected a Democrat to represent them while 49 percent selected a Republican to represent them, and only 1 percent of voters selected ‘none-of-the-above’. There are eight Congressional districts in Wisconsin. A fair and balanced representation of the (partisan) will of the people would send 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans to Congress in D.C. Instead, 5 Representatives from the party that contracted out the redistricting to a partisan contractor were seated in Congress, while only 3 Representatives were seated from the party that actually got the most votes in Wisconsin.
Now it just so happens that the partisan rules that leaders of the two major parties have written to govern these legislative bodies place virtually complete control (not proportionate control) of the agenda and the legislative process in the hands of the leaders of the one party that possesses the most seats in that body – even if that party holds only a one seat plurality.
Consequently, despite the majority of Wisconsin voting in the last general election to be represented by legislators of one political party, both state legislative bodies, and the Wisconsin Congressional delegation, are today dominated by the other party.
How could that possibly be?
How could the clear will of the majority of Wisconsin voters to be represented by one party in all three of these so-called “representative” legislative bodies, be so blatantly thwarted by election results announcing that the majority of the legislators seated in these three legislative bodies would be members of the OTHER party, and the consequent complete control of these legislative bodies would be determined by the leadership of the OTHER political party – the one that was not chosen by the majority of Wisconsin voters?
That stark contradiction is simply and obviously a result of the redistricting that was done in secret, without public input, controlled by and for the partisan interests of one political party, but paid for (in more ways than one!) by ALL Wisconsin citizens.
That partisan redistricting system (especially when performed in secret by a private contractor) does not serve the interests of justice and good government for the people. That redistricting system does not provide truly contested elections and choice to the people of each district. That redistricting system certainly does not serve the interests of democracy and achieving proportional representation in our legislative bodies. That redistricting system, at its best, only serves the interests of partisan political operatives and incumbents currently holding office. At it’s worst, as in the most recent Wisconsin redistricting, the redistricting system itself only serves the interests of one political party and those well-heeled lobbyists who control it. Wisconsin’s current redistricting system is a betrayal of the underlying principle of our democratic republic that all citizens have equal rights and that our votes have equal weight.
How can government possibly be working for the people when, in the face of such startling election results, one partisan elected official – a member, of course, of the very party that most recently so blatantly took partisan advantage of their sole control of this outrageous partisan political redistricting scheme – can prevent public hearings on proposed legislation that would end this travesty and this mockery of government that should be of, by, and for the people?
Senator Mary Lazich is the Chair of the committee that has blocked public hearings in the state senate on a bill (SB 163) to change the way that redistricting is done. Sen. Lazich, and all the rest of the complicit or complaisant current state legislators in the assembly and the senate, need to stop obstructing justice, preventing free and fair elections, and denying the will of the people.
To the people’s representatives currently in the Wisconsin legislature:
Give us public hearings, with adequate public notice, and then vote “yes” on SB 163 and AB 185.