By Susan Curran of League of Women Voters of Winnebago County and Lindsay Dorst of Citizen Action Northeast Wisconsin
Imagine going to a Packers game. You carefully tally the touchdowns and field goals as the Packers work to defeat their opponent, and it looks like they're going to win. However, when the game comes to a close, the Packers have lost, not because they didn't score more, but because their touchdowns and field goals counted for fewer points than their opponent's did.
Does that seem fair?
Unfortunately, that is exactly what's happening when it comes to voting in the state of Wisconsin.
For example, in the 2012 Assembly race, over 168,000 more Wisconsinites voted for one party, yet that party won only 39 of the 99 Assembly seats. The other party, which received fewer votes, won 60 seats. Likewise, in the State Senate, one party received 53% of the votes but only 50% of the seats. Why the disparity between votes and seats? It comes down to our voting maps.
Due to gerrymandering - deliberately drawing voting maps to create a partisan advantage for the party in power - the majority party has guaranteed they will remain in control of the legislature regardless of the votes cast for either party. Not only is this unfair, but a federal court ruled that Wisconsin's current voting maps are unconstitutional because they do not count Wisconsinites' votes equally. Many experts recognize Wisconsin as the most gerrymandered state in the country.
Fortunately, there's a solution. Senate Bill 13 and Assembly Bill 44 would establish a nonpartisan process based on the Iowa model to create fair and impartial maps.
Why are fair voting maps so important? Here are three things to know.
- Fair maps put voters first.
If it seems like your representatives do not listen to you, you are probably right. Due to manipulated voting maps, they no longer need to listen because they are virtually guaranteed re-election if they do what their party leaders tell them to do. This puts the party in power - not voters - in charge because elected officials are selecting their voters instead of voters selecting their elected officials.
Fair maps would put voters back in charge. Our representatives are supposed to work for us, and fair maps would make elections competitive again and ensure that elected officials have a vested interest in listening and responding to their constituents.
- Fair maps save money.
Developing and legally defending the voting maps that were drawn in 2011 has cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $2 million, and the price tag is still growing as these maps head to the Supreme Court. So not only are our constitutional rights being violated, but lawmakers are spending our tax dollars on this unconstitutional practice.
By comparison, the maps drawn by a nonpartisan agency in Iowa cost only about $20,000, which means that we could direct millions of taxpayer dollars back to services that citizens care about, such as education and fixing roads.
- Fair maps promote political balance.
When voting districts are competitive, elected officials must listen to voters on both sides of the aisle to get re-elected. Rigged maps lead to extreme partisanship because moderation and compromise get pushed aside in favor of party loyalty. This does not reflect the political reality of Wisconsin, a purple state that can go either Republican or Democratic by a small margin from election to election.
What can you do?
If you want to put voters - not politicians - back in charge in Wisconsin, please contact your state senator and assembly person and urge them to vote yes to SB-13 and AB-44. It's time for the Wisconsin legislature to represent its voters again.