PROFS recently registered in support of Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163, legislation that would change the way the state draws legislative and congressional districts every ten years. The bills would shift the work of redistricting from the Legislature to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). Both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal have voiced their support of the bills, which draw from existing practices in Iowa.
Earlier this spring, faculty from UW-Madison and Jack O’Meara, PROFS legislative representative, met with legislative leaders on the issue from both parties to discuss redistricting legislation.
The Applied Population Laboratory in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology is a valuable resource on campus and has done work with redistricting in the past. The lab works with county and municipal governments to design new maps, but the Legislature did not consult with them during the most recent redistricting process. In Wisconsin, redistricting begins with county and municipal governments before moving to legislative and congressional districts. A summary of municipal redistricting is here.
Calls for reform began after the most recent round of redistricting. Republicans created new maps in secret at a cost of $2 million. The vast majority of districts in the state are now solidly partisan, resulting in very few competitive races — three in the Senate, fifteen in the Assembly, and none in Congress. Neighboring Iowa has a split legislature and half its congressional seats were decided by single-digit margins in 2012.
The proposed bills would direct the LRB to draw maps that use municipal and county boundaries that are contiguous, eliminating “Frankenstein” districts that sometimes split communities. While the legislature would have to approve the maps, they would have limited opportunity to amend them. The LRB would have three chances to create maps, and the legislature would have to explain why maps are voted down.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) have said they do not support the bills, telling the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board “(i)t’s not gonna happen” (Vos) and “I wouldn’t change one thing about (redistricting)” (Fitzgerald). The bills are in committee awaiting public hearings.