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Groups Eye Redistricting Reforms

Democrats received more votes statewide in the November elections, but Republicans won more seats. What does that say about redistricting?

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s Nov. 29 certification of the official results of the Nov. 6 election made it, well, official: Democratic candidates got more votes than Republicans in state races for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, state Senate and state Assembly.

But the Republicans were able to keep a 5-3 lead in the U.S. House of Representatives, reclaim control of the state Senate by a margin of 18 to 15 seats, and secure a commanding 60-39 advantage in the state Assembly, despite getting fewer votes overall.

How can that be? Mike McCabe, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan elections watchdog, has a theory:

“The outcome of this year’s U.S. House as well as state Senate and state Assembly elections testify to the power of redistricting,” McCabe told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Center, using the newly released official results, has produced maps showing the Nov. 6 vote counts for each congressional and state legislative district. These are posted with this column at WisconsinWatch.org. They depict a mostly red (Republican) state, even though Democrats got the most overall votes in every category.

In the races for Congress, Democrats snared 50.4 percent of the nearly 2.9 million votes cast. In the 16 races for state Senate, Democrats came away with 53 percent of the vote but lost two key seats. In the state’s 99 Assembly districts, Democrats got more than 52 percent of the vote, but won just 39 percent of the seats.

Wisconsin’s congressional and legislative voting districts were redrawn in secret by Republican lawmakers last year, based on the 2010 Census. This wasn’t the first time politics has intruded into the redistricting process, and any drawing of voter boundaries along geographically sensible lines will likely result in some inequities.

But what allegedly happened in Wisconsin is that Democratic voters were packed into a few districts and other districts were carved up in a way to give Republicans a large enough edge to win as many seats as possible.

Consider this: In the Nov. 6 election, there were 23 Assembly seats considered so safely Democratic that no Republican was on the ballot, compared to just four seats that went to Republicans without a Democrat being in the race.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has been pushing both parties to reform the redistricting process for decades, says executive director Andrea Kaminski. The these efforts haven’t gotten much traction because “the party in power wants to stay in power.” State lawmakers “are choosing their voters rather than the voters choosing them.”

Now the League is looking to partner with the Democracy Campaign, Common Cause in Wisconsin and other groups to take a fresh run at redistricting reform. It seeks an independent nonpartisan body to redraw voter boundaries to maximize the number of competitive seats, as is done in Iowa. Kaminski says her group favors doing this via state constitutional amendment, to protect against “the political winds of the day.”

Amending the state constitution is a multi-year process, which is why the League wants to begin now, starting with a public education campaign. Kaminski notes optimistically that lawmakers in power early in a given decade don’t have as great a stake as those later on, “when redistricting is about to take place.”

State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, recently seconded this reasoning in remarks to Common Cause in Wisconsin, saying “this is the time to do the right thing. We don't know who's giving up the power that they're going to have in 2021.”

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, has agreed to work with Cullen on this issue, as he has before. A resolution introduced by the pair and others in the 2011-12 Legislative session to accomplish this change with a state constitutional amendment died in committee. It wasn’t even given a hearing. 

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Jay Sykes December 07, 2012 at 09:22 PM
@Bill Lueders... For a frame of reference, please provide all the same statistics,as cited above, for the 2010 Senate and Assembly races. The 2010 elections occurred prior to the implementation of the current district maps.
Greg December 07, 2012 at 10:11 PM
You can have Dale Schultz and we'll call it even.
Lyle Ruble December 07, 2012 at 10:49 PM
This problem can be solved once and for all by making redistricting bipartisan like Iowa. I agree that we need a constitutional amendment. While we were at it, we can also alleviate the much of the problem by constitutionally changing the number of assembly members at 99 and senate members at 47. Currently the main population areas are under represented while rural and small population areas are over represented.
The Anti-Alinsky December 07, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Random Blog Commenter and jay Sykes have it right. If it were a truly gerrymandered district, we would have should a huge swing in the number of seats for one party or another. As it is, by party, the results were the same as the last election. The reason so many of the the Democratic votes is that their base is very densely packed in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and LaCrosse. Those area's are not just blue, they are bright blue. Take a look at the government accountability data. In most of the state, the individual wards have about a 55% to 45% split, one way or the other. When you get to the large cities, you can see several wards with a 10 to 1 swing for Democrats. The only way to change that would be to truly gerrymander the district. I will upload Illinois District 4. that is not the way I would like to see my congressional district appear.
Bren December 08, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Redistricting should be a nonpartisan or at least bipartisan process. Gerrymandering does not honor our democratic system of government. Period.
Tansandy December 08, 2012 at 10:38 AM
"Redistricting should be a nonpartisan" Would that be just like our State Supreme Court? Yeah , right. When pigs fly!!! I find it truly amazing that the Democrats under the Doyle regime didn't holler for this. Another case of selective outrage from the liberal left wing.
Richard Head December 08, 2012 at 02:06 PM
"Democrats received more votes statewide in the November elections, but Republicans won more seats. What does that say about redistricting? " Nothing at all. It speaks of who controls counting the votes, the Democrat's practice of registering and voting the dead, illegals, and voting more than once.
Lifelong Greendale Resident December 08, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Obviously, there is no way to KNOW if a non-gerrymandered map would have changed the outcome. But none the less, its absurd to have a system that allows outcomes where popular vote statewide is at odds with overall representation. If the outcome had been reversed, and the GOP had received more total votes, and still won less seats the bitching and moaning from load mouths would be deafening. There is just NO good argument for maintaining a partisan system for redistricting. I challenge any one of you above to give me a PRO for making it a partisan issue.
GearHead December 08, 2012 at 02:26 PM
This "problem" is much ado about nothing. If the dems had more statewide support, their majority would have drawn the districts, and crickets would be chirping at the league of women's voters and the rest of these suddenly concerned organizations. Cry me a river over the unfairness of it all. When we lose, we suck it up. When you lose, you always want to change the rules.
Bren December 08, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I would like to see redistricting taking out of the hands of politicians entirely.
The Anti-Alinsky December 08, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Not necessarily LGR. Gerrymandering is creating a district by purposely collect scattered groups of like minded individuals together in such a way that the district is oddly and illogically shaped. The idea of course is to gain extra seats by either 1) destroying an opponents stronghold, or 2) making it stronger by adding portions of another "toss-up" district, thus losing one seat, but gaining two. The fact is, the total congressional vote was almost a 50-50 split, as was the assembly vote. The simple fact is, the blue vote is concentrated in Milwaukee, and Madison, with some in La Crosse and Eau Claire. The only way to fix this would be to gerrymander those area to the point of ridiculousness.
Dave Koven December 08, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Why not just let people vote, and stop dinking around with everything. Let the better person for the job win. Sure it's legal to do this, but it is also an attempt to disenfranchise people indirectly.
Brian Dey December 08, 2012 at 07:12 PM
As Reid and Obama said, "Elections have consequences." So please, can the left just stop whining?
GearHead December 08, 2012 at 07:33 PM
As it stands now, elected reps draw the lines. That is representation. Any non-partisan or bi-partisan effort results in stalemate, meaning arbitration. This of course means judges make arbitrary rulings to the satisfaction of nobody. Haven't you been paying attention to what has been going on at the GAB for the last few years? I'm sure it sucks to be you if you are a democrat. Get over it.
Mike in OC December 09, 2012 at 04:49 AM
@gearhead.... i thought the league of womens voters claimed to be bipartisan.... lol... well that's what they claim at least but we all know its a bunch of libby hacks.
Mike in OC December 09, 2012 at 04:50 AM
@rbc... you cant teach stupidity.... what you said makes sense... that's why no one will comment.
Mike in OC December 09, 2012 at 04:54 AM
@anti... cant be so easy... the dems have thought this out.... they have been working on this for generations... they just failed to think that all of the people they were trying to control would assimilate in the same districts...... duh
Mike in OC December 09, 2012 at 04:58 AM
@brian.... its only the elections that they wish to say have consequences......
Dave Koven December 09, 2012 at 05:41 PM
The next thing you know, the politicians will find a way to make "ballot box stuffing" legal. Just because redistricting is technically "legal" doesn't make it right.
The Anti-Alinsky December 09, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Koven, redistricting is not just "legal", it's mandatory. Census's are taken every ten years to find where the population movement and growth have occured. The purpose is to try and give everyone equal representation. If we used the population distribution fron 1848, when Wisconsin first became a state, most representatives would be from the southwest corner of the state, where the mining boom was occuring, and from the Milwaukee area. The rest of the state would have minimal representation.
Random Blog Commenter December 10, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Drawing political boundaries is a political act, no matter who draws them. The people who tend to cry that things are too political are the ones who didn't win. State Dems have a golden opportunity to capture nominally GOP seats, of which there are many. They need to find the right candidate and message and the incumbant GOP seatholder needs to be viewed poorly by the district. However, this can only happen if the Dems who set the party's message moderate their tone to one that is much more inclusive of people who do not live in Madison or Milwaukee.
FreeThought Troy December 11, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I find it kind of odd that the conservative argument to the gerrymandered districts are, "Yeah, we know it. It's neither right nor fair, but YOU would have done it, too... those are the rules..." Obama care/Universal Healthcare is socialism and the worst thing to happen to our democracy. Voter supression and stilted voting districts to take away fair elections? That's fine. Huh?
Dave Koven December 12, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Anti-Alinsky...Who cares where people live, it's how they vote that matters. I understand the use of a census for long range planning for state expenditures. If you only have a few people in an area, you don't need a lot of representation. Wisconsin has the amount of electoral votes it has, and it doesn't matter where the voters live. It's the overall population that counts. About the only people who benefit from redistricting are the political handlers who now know how best to spend their propaganda money so as to influence an election the way they want it to go. Now it is manipulation of the electoral process that takes center stage instead of a particular candidate's qualifications for a job.
The Anti-Alinsky December 13, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Koven wrote: "..Who cares where people live, it's how they vote that matters..." Judging by the rest of your comment, you have no clue about apportionment. Under the US Constitution a census needs to be taken EVERY ten years so the number of Representatives, and electoral college electors, can be distributed appropriately. Therefore, the census is used for much more important things than just "long range planning for state expenditures". Koven also wrote: "...Wisconsin has the amount of electoral votes it has, and it doesn't matter where the voters live..." Yes Dave, it does matter where the voters live. Representatives must be divided up among the population as evenly as possible. Judging by your comment, you would be fine with having 6 of our House Representatives come from the city of Milwaukee, and the other two from out state. Wisconsin has 1 representative for every 713,000 people. Since Milwaukee has a population of a little under 600,000 it seems to be over represented with Gwen Moore. Koven finished off with: "... Now it is manipulation of the electoral process that takes center stage instead of a particular candidate's qualifications for a job." One of the basic rules for redistricting is to try and combine socioeconomically similiar people together. Would you gerrymander Milwaukee in such a way that it gets more "balanced" than it does now? THAT would be "manipulating the electoral process".
FreeThought Troy December 13, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Considering how corrupt Rebublicans are about supressing the vote this past cycle, I would agree with AG Eric Holder who states we need a non-political set of standards for every state in the union. The end of the day, we need to expand fair elections for accurate representation of the country.
Dave Koven December 13, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Anti-Alinsky...Thank you for the information. While I understand your explanation, I still have reservations about how this redistricting is done so as not to give one candidate an advantage over another. Who decides where the boundary lines will be drawn? To "combine socioeconomically similar" groups together doesn't seem right either. You'd want a fair cross section of all the voters in the state. It sounds like the "ghettoization" of voters. I have never heard of "gerrymandering" being considered a good thing, except from conservatives.
The Anti-Alinsky December 13, 2012 at 11:39 PM
FTT, "non-political" to Eric Holder means "Pro-Democratic Party".
The Anti-Alinsky December 14, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Koven, name one Conservative that has considers gerrymandering a good thing!!!
The Anti-Alinsky December 14, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Koven, combining socioeconomically similar groups is a court consideration. When the new assembly districts where challenged in court this year, the ONLY change the courts made were between two largely Hispanic districts. The legislative version would have likely produced two Hispanic representatives. The courts modified it one boundary so one representative was guaranteed Hispanic while the other was more of a toss-up. To date, no-one has come up with the perfect solution for drawing district boundaries. I look forward to the day when we don't have to worry about how many Hispanic or how many African-American or how many white representatives we have. It will be a great thing when we can just worry about voting for the best candidate!
Dave Koven December 14, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Alinsky...What would be so wrong with having Hispanic reps. in a largely Hispanic district? The real problem is that various ethnic groups (non-caucasian) tend to vote more Democratic. This kind of fiddling around has to stop. Again, just because something is technically legal doesn't make it right.

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