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Editorial: Nonpartisan redistricting still needed in Wisconsin

Back in 1953, East German poet Bertolt Brecht wrote “Die Lösung,” a poem satirizing the government’s response to an uprising earlier that year. In it, he noted government leaflets said the people had forfeited the government’s confidence and must work to win it back.

Brecht’s final lines were pointed: “Would it not in that case be simpler / for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”

He could almost have been talking about how states redraw legislative maps after the U.S. Census.

There’s no reason the United State should be in the middle of a multi-state fight over redistricting. We’re aware of lawsuits filed in at least 14 states challenging various maps and plans, and in every single case there’s a better option.

When politicians shrug their shoulders and say “This is just the way it goes,” they’re avoiding two uncomfortable realities. First, no this isn’t the way it has to be. There are redistricting plans that avoid senseless bickering and interminable lawsuits. Second, it’s this way because the people in state government want it to be this way. This is, to crib from Brecht, how government elects a people.

The current suits run the gamut. Several cite the Voting Rights Act. While most are partisan, seeking to negate an advantage drawn up by one party or the other, others question whether districts meet state requirements for compact districts or even, in the case of a North Carolina suit, free speech grounds. The Wisconsin suit listed in one database comes with the note that the federal suit is on hold, pending the outcome of separate litigation.

Simple systems that don’t allow for political machinations and Machiavellian schemes aren’t to most politicians’ advantage. They don’t guarantee a stranglehold on power. They don’t make life easier by tilting the playing field.

What those systems do accomplish is a legislative map that doesn’t come with millions of additional dollars in litigation fees. They create districts that people actually have to serve in order to return to office.

And there is a clear model for how to create new maps without descending into a bottomless pit of partisan rancor. We’ve written about it several times. Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal did, too.

Republicans control both sides of the Iowa Legislature, as well as the governor’s office. That put them in position to alter the state’s districts, which are widely viewed as some of the least-gerrymandered in the country. They resisted the temptation, allowing the state’s Legislative Services Agency to create the maps. The LSA maps, which are drawn up based on population and geography by a nonpartisan board, were then adopted by the state.

The approach isn’t new for Iowa. This was the fifth redistricting that relied on the approach. And, just like the previous decades, this one was almost without drama. The 48-1 vote by the Iowa Senate in favor of the districts was as close to unanimous as you’re likely to see these days. Iowa’s House wasn’t much more divided, approving the maps 93-2.

Contrast that, if you will, to Wisconsin and ask which approach better serves the people. Lawsuits began here before the maps were even drawn. They’re going to continue for the foreseeable future. It’s expensive, and it’s not acceptable.

Calling for nonpartisan redistricting isn’t a partisan step, either. More than three-quarters of Wisconsin’s counties have backed a nonpartisan approach. It takes only a quick glance at a map of the 2020 presidential election to see that kind of backing isn’t possible in Wisconsin with only one party’s supporters pushing the measure.

We simply cannot see how reducing partisanship harms the state and people of Wisconsin. It is impossible to plausibly argue that turning down the temperature will result in more disruption or undermine faith in government.

Nor, it is clear, can Wisconsin’s legislative leadership plausibly claim that it has no option but to make a new power grab once every 10 years. Options exist, and only willful blindness can deny it.

It is past time for Wisconsin to set aside the needless acrimony the current redistricting approach causes and to begin the process of adopting a nonpartisan approach. It is time to remember that people select the government, not the other way around.

– Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

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