Fifty People Join the Fair District Maps Midstate Community Forum Presentation
On January 22, fifty people joined, either in person at the World War II Memorial Building or via computer at home, to learn about the redistricting process and the impact of partisan gerrymandering on our citizens. The forum was sponsored by Fair District Maps – Midstate, Waushara Commoners, Wisconsin League of Women Voters, Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Wisconsin Media Program Fund.
Fifty-five of Wisconsin’s 72 county councils passed resolutions and voters in 32 counties passed referendums in favor of nonpartisan redistricting maps. Waushara County was one of them in November 2020. Waushara County Council passed a resolution in favor of non-partisan redistricting and voters passed a referendum with 64% in favor of redistricting non-partisan.
Since then, eliminating gerrymandering has become a headache for many. Why is it so important and yet so complicated?
Master of Ceremonies, Joni Anderson, opened the forum with these words: “Across this state, there has been a huge cry for fair, nonpartisan cards. …the need to change the way our voting lines are drawn is very clear. People no longer want this to be done behind closed doors or decided by the political party in power, but rather in an open, transparent and non-partisan way. »
Retired WI Senate Republican Majority Leader Dale Schultz joined the forum virtually where he shared his love of Wisconsin while admitting he and Democrats didn’t always agree, but that they listened to each other and usually came to an agreement. He believes that “gerrymandering threatens the political system of our state”. The result is less cooperation and a series of lawsuits.
To understand the lawsuits, attorney Mel Barnes, of Law Forward participated. Law Forward is a nonpartisan, nonprofit law firm committed to “protecting and advancing democracy” and providing public education on issues that protect democratic principles in Wisconsin.
She talked about the complexities of decision-making for recut maps. The Wisconsin Legislature and State Supreme Court have focused on achieving “least change” within the current boundaries. The People’s Map Commission submitted maps, over 1,700 citizens submitted maps, as well as one submitted by Governor Evers. All were initially rejected.
The criteria for how the maps should be drawn remain ambiguous: “communities of interest” such as Milwaukee’s need for more black electoral districts; the concerns of rural school districts and the demographic changes resulting from the recent census must be taken into account. Federal voting rights laws must also comply.
Attorney Barnes went on to explain that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has not been the decision-maker in the past: this is an area in which they have little experience and yet, due to lawsuits, the Court is tasked with decision. If their decision-making were questioned, it could be sent back to the Federal Court, which has more experience in dealing with redistricting issues.
A startling note shared by Attorney Barnes is that the Wisconsin State Constitution prohibits gerrymandering; a statement that has so far been ignored.
An amicus brief by Concerned Citizens of Wisconsin, made up of citizen representatives from each of the state’s 33 Senate districts, was presented to the state Supreme Court ahead of arguments last week. Two Waushara County citizens, Joe Horvath (SD14) and Pat Schmidt (SD24) were included in the case.
Carlene Bechen, director of the statewide Fair Maps Coalition, spoke about the need for the court to approve maps that work for Wisconsin residents. She noted that legislative constituencies do not affect local and national elections.
Bechen’s reminder to ensure everyone is registered to vote was followed by League of Women Voters of WI Executive Director Debra Cronmiller, who noted that “rather than citizens choosing their elected officials, elected officials , because of gerrymandering, can choose their voters”. . Director Cronmiller pointed out that two bills (SB 288 / AB 303) related to nonpartisan redistricting have gone without a public hearing for months, but 72% of voters think gerrymandering should end according to a faculty poll. law from Marquette University.
“People Powered Maps” is a current focus of the LWV. Cronmiller offered suggestions such as “raising our voices”, engaging in “tough” political conversations, holding elected officials accountable. She pointed out that 4,250 emails were sent to lawmakers asking for redistricting to draw fair district maps. Although judiciary elections are “non-partisan,” Cronmiller added that they often are not; thus, “the judicial system is broken down”. We need to make our voice heard and give the power back to the voters.
During the forum, each speaker answered questions. A video created by The Wisconsin Farmers’ Union, Fighting for Democracy – Fair Maps in Wisconsin, visually illustrated how gerrymandering works. Fair Maps Coalition leader Carlene Bechen noted that candidates for public office are being asked to pledge to end gerrymandering.
Fair District Maps-Midstate Chief Joe Horvath shared general information about the non-partisan Fair District Maps-Midstate team and urged the public to consider sharing accurate Fair Maps information, encouraging others to supporting fair maps and engaging other citizens in “civil, civic, discourse”.
Facilitator Joni Anderson ended the meeting with these words: “Today we stand in solidarity with all grassroots organizations and individuals who have taken time out of their busy schedules and made their voices heard.”
For more information on nonpartisan redistricting, see the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition and the Fair Elections Project at https:fairelectionsproject.org