When a state draws new lines for congressional and legislative districts following a census, legislators invariably find themselves running in new districts.
That can be challenging for the politicians — and sometimes for the voters — but it is how we maintain a representative democracy where every voter has roughly an equal voice.
That’s the point of redistricting. It is supposed to serve the voters, not the politicians.
And this is what makes the debate about which district lines should be used for upcoming recall elections involving state legislators so unsettling.
After the 2010 census numbers came in, the Republican politicians who control both houses of the Legislature redrew the district lines to serve their own political purposes. That’s how the game is played, unfortunately, by both parties.
On Monday, however, Republicans in the Legislature tried to force recall elections to be held in the new districts, as opposed to the old ones. Their intent was clear enough; they think that Republicans facing possible recalls would do better in districts freshly drawn to favor those Republicans. They were blocked by the one responsible Republican in the caucus, Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.
But don’t doubt that the governor’s cronies may try again to game the election process.
And make no mistake: There’s a serious problem with using the new lines.
The Legislature as it is currently configured serves from January 2011 to January 2013. Most members of the state Assembly and Senate were elected in 2008 and 2010 from the old districts. The new members of the Legislature, those elected in 2011 special elections to fill vacant Assembly seats and in recall elections for state Senate seats, were elected from the old districts.
If Republicans like state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, were to get their way, the legislative chambers could be in conflict with themselves — with members elected from old districts and new ones, some of them overlapping. It’s quite possible that some areas of the state might have no elected representation in the Senate.
Here’s how: Suppose you live in a part of Racine represented by Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard, who was elected in 2010. If Wanggaard is recalled in 2012 and the recall is done using the old district lines, everyone will be represented. But if the recall is done following the new lines, those who live in areas drawn out of the district will not be represented by someone they elected.
It’s bad enough that because of the four-year Senate terms, some voters might wind up being represented by a senator they didn’t vote for when the redistricting takes place next November. We don’t need to make it worse by moving up the effective dates.
A lot of confusing signals have been sent by Government Accountability Board representatives and some legislators, who have peddled the fantasy that the members of the Assembly and Senate represent the new districts. But that’s absurd. Sitting legislators were elected from the old districts; they represent the people who elected them. A fundamental tenet of representative democracy is that people should be represented by legislators they elected. There’s nothing complicated about that. And it doesn’t have to get complicated. During the current session of the Legislature, legislators should not choose which voters they represent. The voters should choose which legislators represent them.
To maintain representative democracy, the old lines must remain definitional until this session is finished.
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