One look at Iowa’s congressional district map tells the story.
It’s orderly and clean. Its boundaries follow county lines. The state splits into four relatively similar pieces.
Iowa does redistricting right: A nonpartisan agency draws the maps after each major census to adjust for population changes. The process is open and inexpensive, and it produces more competition for seats: Half of Iowa’s congressional races last fall were decided by single-digit margins.
Now look at Wisconsin’s congressional map. The lines are drawn all over the place. Western Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District sprouts a narrow branch into central Wisconsin, and Rock County is oddly split in half.
The politicians draw the lines in Wisconsin, allowing them to pick which communities they want to represent, based on voting patterns. As a result, many incumbents from both major political parties wind up with safer seats. All of Wisconsin’s eight congressional races last fall were decided by double-digit margins.
The Republicans who run the Wisconsin statehouse also drew legislative districts to their favor, largely in secret. The rigged maps helped the GOP hold its lock on power last fall, despite big statewide wins by Democrats.
The Democrats would have played the same partisan game had they been in charge. (In fact, the liberal majority on the Dane County Board rigged local maps to gain more supervisor seats.)
In the end, citizens don’t just lose at the ballot box. They also lose money. Legal bills defending Wisconsin’s maps in court have cost millions of tax dollars.
Wisconsin’s awful redistricting process contributes to gridlock in Washington and discourages cooperation at the statehouse. That’s because fewer competitive districts lead to fewer centrists willing to compromise across party lines. Voters get less choice, and partisan politicians get more power — something they’re not about to give up.
When asked during a recent meeting with the State Journal editorial board if Wisconsin will adopt Iowa’s model for redistricting, top Republican leaders were arrogant and blunt.
“It’s not gonna happen,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
“The same way we just did it,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. “I would not change one thing about it.”
Fitzgerald ridiculously suggested there’s little difference in how Wisconsin and Iowa draw their maps. He noted that the Iowa Legislature still must approve that state’s final maps, so politics are still involved.
But in Iowa, the politicians don’t draw the lines. That’s the key difference dramatically improving fairness for voters.
Iowa’s maps were quickly approved by 90-7 and 48-1 majorities, compared to Wisconsin’s party-line votes and drawn-out lawsuits.
Iowa is one of only a handful of states with split legislatures.
Wisconsin should adopt the Iowa model before the 2020 census. With enough public pressure, even Vos and Fitzgerald might put the interest of voters ahead of their own.