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Who Should Draw Wisconsin’s New Political Boundaries?

June 23, 2011

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin's redistricting system is "rigged" to give unfair advantage to incumbents, a nonpartisan watchdog group says.

Democracy works best when voters choose their representatives and not the other way around, says Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The power to draw new political boundaries every 10 years should be taken away from the politicians, McCabe says, because the political parties tend to "stack the deck" when they redraw the lines.

"If they can draw districts that make it almost a foregone conclusion that they'll be re-elected, because voters who are inclined to vote for them are packed into their districts, then they really aren't as accountable to the public as they ought to be."

Far too many elections in Wisconsin are blowouts, McCabe says.

"There are 132 seats in the Legislature. The most we've ever seen is 29 legislative elections decided by 10 points or less. We've seen as few as 10 in some years."

The last three rounds of redistricting wound up in federal court, McCabe says, because control of the Legislature's two houses was split and the two parties couldn't agree on a plan. This time, he says, Republicans have a big advantage because they control both the Senate and Assembly.

McCabe suggests a different way of drawing the lines. In Iowa, for instance, redistricting authority has been taken out of the hands of elected lawmakers and given to a nonpartisan legislative agency.

"Arizona also has a system where there's an independent commission that draws the lines. California is moving that direction, too. So, there are models out there of better ways to do this, and what we need to do is take this out of the hands of the politicians."

McCabe says a number of better and more fair alternatives should be considered for this important task.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI