The bipartisan fight to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin

Sophia Voight, Co-News Editor

Former majority leaders of the Wisconsin Senate Dale Schultz (R) and Tim Cullen (D) joined together to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin in an effort to create a more representative government in the state.

Schultz and Cullen have been traveling around Wisconsin educating people on the disadvantages of gerrymandering and proposing policy solutions for nearly a decade.

In a panel discussion over Collaborate Ultra on Sept. 16, Schultz, Cullen and Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Debra Cronmiller discussed how the adoption of the “Iowa solution” could end unfair mapping in Wisconsin.

Gerrymandering is the drawing of representational districts to create an unfair political advantage for one party.
“Gerrymandering is about abuse of power; it’s about one party having total power,” Cullen said.

Cullen said gerrymandering occurs when one party controls both houses of the state legislature and have legislators draw representative districts in their favor.

“They win the election the day the maps are drawn,” he said. “Election Day really doesn’t matter if you create a 60-40 district for one party,” he said.

Schultz and Cullen suggested that the People’s Map Commission created by Gov. Tony Evers to draw and submit nonpartisan maps to the Legislature implement Iowa’s approach to redistricting into Wisconsin’s maps.

Under the Iowa redistricting system, nonpartisan staff draws the lines with a nonpartisan approach. Drawers are required to:

  • Refrain from using political data such as political affiliations of registered voters and previous election results.
  • Make districts contiguous and compact, and not irregularly shaped.
  • Never take the address of incumbents into consideration.
  • Keep cities and counties intact to the fullest extent possible.

Schultz said the legislation seems to be very popular in Iowa as no legislators have tried to eliminate the system in the 40 years it has been around.

“It’s popular with people, they get to decide who their representatives are; the representatives can’t decide who their constituents will be,” Schultz said.

The People’s Maps Commission will be holding virtual hearings in all eight congressional districts beginning Oct. 1 to get input from citizens on their electoral districts.

Cronmiller said it is a huge injustice to our electoral system to not have fair maps in Wisconsin.

“Our forefathers and foremothers fought for fair representation and fought for a system of representative government,” she said.

Cronmiller said gerrymandering allows elected officials to secure their seats in upcoming elections regardless of whether they listen to their constituents.

“We don’t get good government; we get another form of contentious government that does not represent the people,” she said.

Cullen said when officials are secure in gerrymandered districts, they don’t talk to their constituents about issues because they know they have enough support among party lines to win elections.

Gerrymandering allows officials to pass legislation that doesn’t necessarily support what the majority of Wisconsinites want, according to Cullen.

Cronmiller said banning gerrymandering is the only real path toward a more representative government.

“It is not a system that was designed in our making and it’s not a system that most Wisconsinites want,” she said.
According to a Marquette Law School poll, 72% of the public prefer redistricting of legislative and congressional districts to be done by a nonpartisan commission.

Schultz said gerrymandering also leads to more divisive politics because politicians don’t need to listen to constituents or debate opponents to win elections.

“People don’t listen to each other; the great debates of the past have disappeared, and we find ourselves no longer interested in hearing what others have to say,” he said.

Cullen said incumbents don’t debate their opponents when they’re in gerrymandered districts, because they already know they’ve won the election.

“They just say ‘I’m not debating you’ knowing that the majority of the voters in their district will stick with them, no matter how outrageous their behavior is,” Cullen said.

Cronmiller said having fair maps would bring back a civil dialogue, where politicians interact with their opponents and constituents.

“I think this is really the way we restore our governance when we elect people that represent us and our opinions,” she said.