After winning full control of the Wisconsin state government in 2010, the Republican Party began to look for ways to make their newfound power permanent. They hired professionals to draft up new district maps that leaned in their favor, stretching the boundaries of laws created to stop predatory gerrymandering. Their scheme came to fruition in the 2012 election in the Wisconsin Assembly when, in a perversion of democracy, Republicans won just 48 percent of the vote and took 60 out of 99 seats. In the 2014 election, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote and took home 63 of 99 Assembly seats.
“Your vote counts. Your voice matters.” Every election cycle these phrases are drilled into our heads. Our elections are long, complicated, and frustrating, but the payoff at the end, knowing that we’ve elected a government that is representative of the thoughts, beliefs, and needs of the people is worth it.
But what happens when that government is no longer representative? What happens when our democracy isn’t really a democracy anymore? Through gerrymandering, Wisconsin Republicans turned their 48 percent loss into a 60 percent victory. If this happened in any other country, we would call this what it is — undemocratic and corrupt.
Gerrymandering can be confusing, but at its heart the importance of fair district borders isn’t that complicated. Imagine you were in power in your state, and you wanted to keep it that way. In each district, a victory with 51 percent of the vote gives you the same result as 99 percent, meaning anything above the absolute minimum number you need to win is wasted. So you split up the map to give your opponents a few districts where their supporters make up 80 to 90 percent of the vote, and because they are concentrated in those areas, your supporters make up a small majority, around 55 percent, in the many other districts in the state. Divided like this, you could significantly lose the popular vote but still end up with almost total control of the government, like the GOP in Wisconsin.
Pennsylvania recently won a major victory over partisan gerrymandering when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned their heavily gerrymandered congressional map for violating the state’s constitution. After Republicans failed to produce a fair map, the judge gave that honor to a nonpartisan law professor.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s gerrymandering, it’s clear that our current situation is unacceptable. Wisconsin, along with the rest of the country, should follow in Pennsylvania’s footsteps. It is undemocratic that the candidates pick their voters rather than voters picking their candidates. Every state in the country should have their districts drawn by a nonpartisan, nonpolitical panel of experts, not biased lawmakers looking to secure re-election.
In a democracy every voice should matter, and every vote should count. Gerrymandering denies us the most fundamental right that Americans have spent centuries fighting and dying for, and it’s time for this undemocratic practice to become a relic of the past.
Wisconsin native Leonard Sobczak is CEO and principal of Eastmore Real Estate and a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.
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