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Why Redistricting Could Be The Most Important Political Issue In Wisconsin

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With census data delayed until September, redistricting efforts in Wisconsin could get pushed back.

In accordance with the U.S. Constitution, a census is taken every ten years to count every single person living in the United States. That data is used for many federal programs but most importantly, it guides how political boundaries are drawn.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has pushed back the deadline to deliver the data from April to September.

Hong Min Park, an associate professor of political science at UW-Milwaukee, says this will likely delay Wisconsin’s process of redistricting and the state will have to move the March 2022 deadline to finish drawing new political maps.

“[Redistricting] is very important because it could ultimately change the composition of party control — not only in the United States Congress but also in the state Legislature as well,” he says.

Wisconsin has seen the effects of what can happen when one political party uses the power given to the state Legislature to draw better maps for their candidates, what is called gerrymandering.

“If we look at the U.S. Congressional Districts, even though we are almost 50/50 in terms of the potential vote share (between Democrats and Republicans), we are right now five to three, Republican advantage here in Wisconsin. That’s all because of the partisan gerrymandering,” he says.

To prevent partisan gerrymandering, a number of states have taken the power of redistricting out of the hands of politicians and into non-partisan boards who are tasked with coming up with the most fair and competitive districts possible, Park explains.

“I personally think that the fair districting can be done only through the non-partisan commission process, not through the state Legislature,” he says.

Park says keeping the power with legislators often means that whichever party is in power will use the opportunity to make their elections less competitive and create less incentive to listen to the voters in their district who may have differing opinions on legislation.

So, while many people don’t consider redistricting as their most important political issue, he says, letting gerrymandering get worse can mean politicians won’t have to listen on any issues.

“If it’s not that competitive in an election process, then our representatives do not have any incentive to listen voters and voters’ preferences,” says Park. “That’s why redistricting is so important.”

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.
Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July and Digital Producer in January 2021.