By LaKeshia N. Myers
By now you probably know there was an important conversation regarding non-partisan redistricting that took place in the state assembly last week. The bill that was introduced, AB415, would create a new procedure for the preparation of legislative redistricting plans. The bill directs the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) to draw redistricting plans based upon standards specified in the bill and establishes a redistricting advisory commission to perform certain tasks in the redistricting process.
Under the bill, a redistricting plan drawn by the LRB must satisfy several criteria, including the following:
1. The plan must be based on population requirements imposed under the Wisconsin Constitution and the U.S. Constitution and requirements imposed under the federal Voting Rights Act, which, among other things, generally prohibits redistricting plans from abridging the right to vote on account of race or color or because a person is a member of a language minority group.
2. The senate and assembly districts established in the plan must satisfy equal population standards specified in the bill.
3. District boundaries under the plan must coincide with municipal ward boundaries and, to the extent consistent with the Wisconsin Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act, must coincide with the boundaries of political subdivisions. The number of political subdivisions divided among more than one district must be as small as possible and must preserve the communities of interest.
4. Districts must be composed of convenient contiguous territory. Under the bill, areas that meet only at the points of adjoining corners are not contiguous.
5. To the extent consistent with the requirements described in items 1 to 3, districts must be compact. The bill also specifies how compactness is to be measured.
6. In preparing the plan, the LRB must be strictly nonpartisan. No district may be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or other person or group. The LRB may not use residence addresses of incumbent legislators, political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results, or demographic information to augment or dilute the voting strength of a language or racial minority group, except as necessary to meet the requirements described in item 1.
7. The number of assembly districts may not be less than 54 nor more than 100. The number of senate districts may not be more than one-third nor less than one-fourth of the number of assembly districts and each senate district must contain only whole assembly districts.
This legislation at its core, included about eighty percent of the items Democrats had been vying for since 2003. This was an opportunity for us to take a vote on a viable non-partisan redistricting plan that would get us closer to equitable maps. Unfortunately, the strategy of my caucus was to not engage in the process. There was no group effort to negotiate on amendments or even ask for extended time for discussion. In my opinion, this was the wrong move. Redistricting is too important an issue for Democrats to remain silent.
Instead of remaining silent, I chose to vote on the amendments that were offered and I voted “Yes” on final passage of the bill. I did this to keep the bill alive and open for discussion in the state senate. It is my hope that our state senators will engage in negotiation and actually engage in the legislative process on the people’s behalf. Our constituents have repeatedly stated that non-partisan redistricting is something they desperately want, therefore it is our duty to make it happen.
I believe in fighting “the good fight” on all fronts—legislatively as well as in the courts. However, the constitution clearly outlines the legislature as the responsible party for drawing maps. Because of past practices, I have grave concerns about this being done by the court as well as any partisan entity. AB415 was a way for us to get to a process to create a map. It was not a vote that I took lightly, but it was done on behalf of the people.
Rep. LaKeshia Myers