We demand fair maps

A citizens' movement for nonpartisan redistricting is gathering steam

Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin's gerrymandering case. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

When your car gets stolen, you call the police and there’s a chance they will catch the thief and return your car. When your vote gets stolen, where do you turn?

Chances are you won’t even know it happened. After all, you stood in line, showed your photo ID, and inked the line by your favorite candidates, standing beside your neighbors. But the fact is, because of gerrymandering, the results in the Wisconsin Assembly are almost always a foregone conclusion, regardless of whether you voted for the winner or the loser.

The reason, of course, is that in 2011, Wisconsin became one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Give a political party a powerful computer, strip away all sense of fairness and our current voting map is what you get.

Gerrymandering, the rigging of political district lines to keep the ruling party in power, is wrong no matter which party is doing it — Democrats or Republicans.

It denies voters fair representation, and it’s been happening in our state and country for way too long. In fact, the term dates back to 1812 when Elbridge Gerry, then-governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill creating the infamous district shaped like a salamander. (People combined “Gerry” with “salamander,” to get “gerrymander,” and the name has stuck ever since.)

Like most Wisconsinites, I am frustrated and angry that this problem wasn’t resolved long ago and that politicians are still able to pick their voters rather than the voters choosing who represents them.

We’ve had enough.

We don’t like feeling powerless.

We don’t like it that our voices don’t seem to matter. 

We’re fed up with politicians who feel they can ignore us because they represent “safe” districts and don’t even have to interact with constituents to be re-elected. 

This is an issue that cuts across political party lines. In a January 2019 Marquette Law School Poll, 72% of Wisconsinites said they believe that partisan gerrymandering should be ended. That includes 63% of Republicans and 76% of independents. Clearly, there is strong public support for solving this problem. And there is a solution. 

Iowa Republicans figured it out in the 1980s when they created a non-partisan advisory commission to draft congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Their state legislature retains final authority to implement district maps. This model would work in Wisconsin. All we need are legislators who are courageous enough to back an independent process.

We must demand that legislators and candidates for the legislature publicly support fair maps legislation. That legislation is Senate Bill 288 and Assembly Bill 303, introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Robyn Vining (D- Wauwatosa) respectively, and co-sponsored by four Republican representatives and backed by all Democratic state legislators. 

To amplify this demand, a small group of grassroots activists, the Oregon Area Progressives, decided to convene the Fair Maps for Wisconsin Summit, to be held in Marshfield, Wisconsin on November 9. Interest in the summit spread quickly, and it was endorsed by the Fair Maps Coalition, a group of more than a dozen organizations working on this issue.

We were very intentional when choosing to hold the Fair Maps for Wisconsin Summit in Marshfield, in the center of Wisconsin, to make it convenient for people all across the state to participate. And we wanted to hold the summit in a place that has itself been gerrymandered, as Marshfield and Wood County were in 2011.

The Fair Maps for Wisconsin Summit is a day-long non-partisan statewide event featuring speakers from around our state and the nation and offering action workshops designed to give grassroots activists the skills, relationships, resources, and coordination they need to work on this issue. The outcome will be regional grassroots groups that will work in each Congressional district to end gerrymandering.

To register for the Fair Maps for Wisconsin Summit, go to https://www.fairmaps4wisummit.com/tickets-step1.

For more information about the Summit, email [email protected].

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