Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Redistricting lawsuit shows a need for reforms, including proportional representation

The current process is too partisan, restricts voters from having a voice in the legislature

A new redistricting lawsuit is taking hold in the state. Here we go again...
Calling the current state legislative redistricting "one of the worst gerrymanders in modern American history," a group of 12 Wisconsin Democrats sued the state Wednesday, asking that the 2011 district map be thrown out as giving an unconstitutional advantage to Republicans.


The lawsuit also points to the way that district lines were drawn in secret by the Legislature's Republican leadership, without consulting Democratic leaders or rank-and-file of either party, then pushed through the Assembly with little debate.
Redistricting, of course, whether done by Republicans or by Democrats, is wholly a partisan process. It needs reform, desperately, that allows a neutral party or panel to submit redistricting borders that can then be approved by the legislature, rather than allowing the political players themselves to determine which officeholders “win” with the new lines drawn.

Much further than that, Wisconsin needs to overhaul elections altogether to allow for a mixed proportional representation system.

My proposal: cut out a third of the Assembly to be chosen by such a vote.

Currently there are three representatives per senate district in the state. If we lessened that to two representatives per senate district, then there would be 33 seats remaining that can be divvied up and determined by a party-based proportional representation election.

Essentially, whatever percentage (by a statewide vote) that Democrats or Republicans (or any third party) receive would result in a similar representation of those remaining 33 seats. So if Democrats won 40 percent of the vote, they’d get roughly 13 additional seats in the legislature.

The best part of this idea? No matter where you live in the state, you’ll have a representative in the legislature that you can call your own. Say you’re a Republican in Dane County -- presently expressing your conservative ideas to your state assembly representative means you’re not likely to get anywhere.

But if you voted for the Republicans in the state proportional representation part of the ballot, you’d have someone you can call “your” legislator in office. No matter what your geographical location is -- a Republican in Milwaukee, a Democrat in Waukesha, a Libertarian anywhere, and so on -- you’ll have that voice in the legislature working for you.

PR isn’t perfect, but a hybrid of both it and the current district-based system would provide constituents the best of both worlds. Through the district-based vote, constituents would have someone in office that understands the needs of their area. And through the PR-based vote, voters would be virtually guaranteed a voice in the legislature, even if their candidates in the Senate and Assembly district elections didn’t win.

It’s a pipe-dream to be sure -- creating an electoral system incorporating proportional representation would require a statewide constitutional amendment, not to mention eroding the powers of the top two parties in the state.

Still, it would be the right route to take, if looking strictly at what would be the best interests of voters.

Let’s hope there’s some legislators in office who still think that way.

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