Gerrymandering in the state of Wisconsin

Former Wisconsin State Senators Tim Cullen (Democrat) and Dale Schultz (Republican) held a public forum to educate their listeners about gerrymandering and the problem it poses not only in the state of Wisconsin but in other states as well.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral constituency to favor one party.

“If you want to figure out whether politicians drew the districts or whether somebody else did, look for right angles,” Cullen said as he pointed out these angles on Wisconsin’s map.

The boundaries of districts in Wisconsin have been drawn by the legislature, whereas in Iowa the boundaries have been drawn by state employees.

“When the politicians draw the map they draw it for their own interests and that’s not what goes on in Iowa,” Cullen said.

In Iowa, since 1980, they have had state employees, generally the same person, who drafts any other bills the Iowa legislature believes needs to be drawn on the map.

“This employee can’t consider the hometown incumbent, can’t consider the political makeup of any community, he’s just supposed to keep communities of interest together, keep cities together when possible, for sure keep counties together when possible,” Cullen said.

Since the switch in 1980, Iowa hasn’t gone back to legislature drawn maps.

The reason it is so important to declare who should be drawing these maps is because of the constant power struggle the U.S. has between the two major parties; the republicans and the democrats. These maps are redrawn every ten years when the state has a census and until 2011 the power had been split between the parties. This meant that one party was checking the other making sure there was not too much power on either side, doing so made gerrymandering nearly impossible. When one party has total control of both the legislature and the governorship in a state they can freely abuse that power such as changing a few lines on a map to favor their party in any vote.

“We always bring these maps [of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin] because [they] show that it’s not a partisan issue. It just is that whatever state where all the power is, is where the powers abused,” Cullen explained.

Shultz continued along the same line of thought stating that “during this gerrymandering process what the political party in charge tries to do is to pack as many of the opposition into a few districts where they’ll never be defeated but they don’t care because, they’re going to make a majority solid for themselves and a bunch of moderately winnable seats with what’s left over.” This process is also known as packing and cracking.

In this scenario, the legislatures no longer listen to any person who disagrees with them because the odds are already locked in their favor. When a member of either party expresses their disapproval of a legislatures decisions, whether it be via mail or email they simply don’t have to respond. Public disapproval becomes less of a driving factor for change and more of a small annoyance.

“There is a built-in incentive for whoever’s in charge, be it republican or democrat, to just blow off the news-media whose job it is to hold to power structure accountable or any particular constituent,” Shultz said.

The largest problem any legislature faces after gerrymandering is the possibility of having an opponent during the next primary but if they tow the party line even that threat becomes nothing more than a bump in the road.

Cullen and Schultz have created a bill that proposed the state of Wisconsin go to the Iowa plan (they currently have a federal lawsuit pending). The basis of their case is that gerrymandering diminishes the value of your vote because even if you skip voting in that race, the results would be the same.

“It’s really about the vote. [It’s] about watering down the value of each and every one of your votes and everybody else who takes the time to vote,” Shultz said.

The former senators are hopeful that the courts will come to a decision within the calendar year. If Cullen and Schultz win the lawsuit it would mean that gerrymandering in Wisconsin would no longer exist. The U.S. Supreme Court must act on this because it is a constitutional question. If the Supreme Court affirms the decision made by the previous three judge panel, then gerrymandering would be deemed unconstitutional and removed across the nation.