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Jackson County joins effort to fix voting districts

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Maps

This map shows the changes in district lines over various plans and the effect that had on election result with red areas representing Republican districts and blue representing Democrat districts.

Ray Ransom, the Jackson County board chairman, described the county’s districts as having little fingers all over the county.

There has been a growing concern across the state that redistricting voting districts for political gain is growing out of control.

Jackson County recently joined others across the state in passing a resolution to create a new procedure for redistricting plans.

The resolution says, “...[S]tate and federal legislative redristicting is controlled by the majority party at the time of redistricting, legislative and congressional plans in Wisconsin have been subject to partisan influence that puts the desires of politicians ahead of the electoral prerogative of the people.”

A case, Whitford v Gill, has been making its way through the judicial process lately in Wisconsin and has moved to the Supreme Court.

Filed back in 2015, a complaint argues that the district map made in 2012 created by Wisconsin Act 43 was “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”

The complaint states the Republicans were able to win 60 of the 99 Assembly seats despite the fact that Democrats actually won a majority of the statewide Assembly vote.

“It needs to be the voters who choose their representatives, not the other way around,” Wisconsin Rep. Kind said in an op-ed he wrote about the subject.

Not every politician in Wisconsin agrees that the problem is that far out of hand though.

Speaking for the results in his own district, State Senator Patrick Testin doesn’t see much of a problem.

“My predecessor won the district with 56 percent of the vote in 2012 and in 2016 lost it with 48 percent,” Testin said. “The lines didn’t change, the people didn’t change, the people’s opinions changed.”

Testin said the demographic he represents is still a slightly Democratic majority district even though he’s a Republican.

Gerrymandering has been a growing problem in the ever-increasing partisan climate of politics, but the Wisconsin case is especially unique in the fact that it is the first time in over 30 years that a district court has ruled a state has done unlawful partisan gerrymandering.

The current standard for determining any partisan redistricting was set by two Supreme Court cases, Vieth v. Jubelirer and LULAC v. Perry, which uses statistics to see if results match up with expected trends.

“In post-2010 congressional elections, partisan gerrymandering in a handful of states generated effects that are larger than the total nationwide effect of population clustering,” Samuel S.H. Wang said in a study published in the Stanford Law Review.

Some experts have said that Wisconsin is one of the worst states for gerrymandering.

“Wisconsin is the most extreme partisan gerrymander in the United States in the post-2010 cycle,” said attorney Gerry Hebert last year in an interview with WPR, who’s the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center. “It’s about as far out from what you would consider to be fair as you can imagine.”

The Wisconsin court of appeals ruled in November that Act 43 should no longer be used to determine districts in future elections, but the parties involved have been unable to agree on who should redraw the maps.

Testin said the way the maps were drawn before, being created by a judge before Republicans were swept into power with Governor Walker, makes it hard for him to say any wins were because of gerrymandering.

“Right now it’s up to the legislature and that’s the way it has been for the past 100 years,” Testin said. “I think it’s our responsibility to take ownership of that.”

In regards to the previous maps and their decision to rule them unconstitutional, the court wrote, “The record in this case makes abundantly clear that the drafters of the 2010 reapportionment labored intensely over their project. Although, in the end, they produced what we have found to be an unconstitutional result, they wrestled along the way with many legitimate political considerations.”

The resolution in Jackson County says that responsibility should fall to a new, non-partisan commission who could handle the redistricting as opposed to the majority party.

“This comes up a lot in town halls and obviously sparks a lot of passion,” Testin said.

As the political climate grows evermore divided, the resolution states, “There is a critical need at this time to restore trust, compromise and fair competition to Wisconsin politics.”

When those districts will be redrawn is up in the air though as the case needs to be brought before the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs in the case wanted it to be done as soon as possible, but the court gave the legislature some room to breathe and time to consider the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Everything depends on what the court says right now,” Testin said.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that a new map should be completed by November 1, 2017 in the hopes that it will give enough time for a decision to be made and those that are running for office will have ample time to plan their election campaigns accordingly.

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