We all have issues or concerns we care deeply about. For me, growing up in Marathon County, it was always educating our community’s youth, ensuring our state maintains its natural beauty, and committing to and supporting a community of engaged citizens. But for you, or your neighbor or your grandma or your brother, the issue most pressing might be clean water, gun rights and safety, access to higher education or to more sustainable higher-paying jobs, legalization of marijuana, lower taxes, better roads, food security, lower health care premiums and much lower prescription drug costs. Or maybe you would say your biggest worries center on being able to provide a safe, healthy and comfortable life for your family.
All of these issues are indeed pressing. Yet our elected officials’ apathy to act on the most pressing concerns in our everyday lives leaves all of us feeling frustrated and disengaged, because our voices and opinions are not reflected through the state’s democratic processes.
Wisconsin residents have fallen victim to a manipulative, anti-democratic scheme coordinated by legislators in power called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the nefarious taking of a seemingly bland but important democratic practice—redrawing electoral districts to reflect new Census data every 10 years—emptying it of transparency of process and public input, and instead creating districts solely for political advantage rather than the advantage of communities of interest. When state legislators from either party gerrymander districts, they are using pin point precision (through highly sophisticated technology and decades of voting and personal internet data) to draw districts in a manner that will sustain a party’s political success for a decade at a time. But this scheme rebuffs the natural ebb and flow of how citizens vote—depending primarily on issues, not parties—changing as the critical issues of the day and the effectiveness of elected officials on those issues change.
We are living under an illusory democratic electoral system. Through gerrymandering it is the legislators who are picking their constituents instead of citizen voters deciding who will be their representatives in government. As a consequence of legislators selfishly drawing districts to serve their own political advantages, communities of interest like towns, villages, cities and counties get divided. Neighbors have to try to persuade two different elected officials to fix one pot hole at the center of town. This division of communities of interest dilutes citizen’s persuasive power and ability to hold their elected officials accountable. Over time, gerrymandered districts stifle competitive elections, hinder new candidates from unseating incumbents, and lead to more voter disengagement and less urgency for progress on the things impacting our lives daily.
Gerrymandering is a substantial cause of the feeling by many voters on both sides of the aisle that even when their vote reflects the winner in an election, the person they voted for fails to effectively act on the issues impacting them. And the people of Wisconsin are fed up. As early as last year, Marquette Law School polling found that 72 percent of Wisconsin voters supported a nonpartisan commission responsible for legislative redistricting—following the example of states like Iowa, Michigan, and Arizona that have all sought in their own ways to achieve nonpartisan electoral maps.
A nonpartisan commission to redraw electoral districts does not mean each party will be afforded a 50-50 split of seats. Rather it will mean local communities will not be divided; representatives will be forced to take note of the citizens in their districts instead of feeling secure that they rigged the process to lock themselves in power; and transparency will be put back into democratic processes as Wisconsinites so desperately deserve. It will mean competitive elections and voter re-engagement. It will mean more empowered communities and actual action on the issues that matter to us.
Don’t let our elected officials remain apathetic to our needs. Our state has a long history of its citizens overcoming the struggle and structural barriers by harnessing and re-empowering our democratic rights. Marathon County residents and Wisconsinites know that we have much more in common than media narratives like to portray, and that practicing and maintaining morals of fairness and equality in our democratic processes keep our communities stronger long-term than winning an election.
Please talk and ask questions about the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission (fair maps!) with your elected officials and all of the candidates in the upcoming elections. Ask them where they stand: Should voters pick their government representatives or should people in power dictate the length of their own terms? Make sure you and your family, friends and neighbors are counted in the Census and that you voice your opinion in Wisconsin’s future by voting (preferably absentee and by mail!) in all of the upcoming elections. Success in the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission is fundamental to success on any other issue. Regardless of your political affiliations, or lack thereof, whether or not we end gerrymandering will dictate whether we are actually On Wisconsin!
Kaile Sepnafski of Kronenwetter
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly accepts letters to the editor from residents, officials, and candidates for local offices. The views of our readers are not necessarily the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, send to email@example.com.