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Political Process Shuffles Area Residents

Federal, state and local municipalities are undergoing a redistricting process, something that's important to help protect the value of your votes.

Right now, you are in the process of moving — and you may not even realize it. 

It's a political move, but a move nonetheless.

After every ten-year census, the electoral maps are redrawn from top to bottom. City and village officials , State officials have begun work on maps for the state Assembly and Senate districts and federal officials have been circulating a plan for our congressional districts.

In at least one of those districts, you are likely moving.

The process makes sense. Every ten years, the Constitution requires the government to perform a census. It allows the government to keep track of who has moved where, which districts have grown and shrunk and protect the value of everyone's vote.

My vote will be roughly the same as a friend's vote in Illinois, no matter how many people move into Wisconsin and how many people leave Illinois.

As with any process that makes sense, however, we can point to a historical example showing why the process needs to be in place.  In 16th and 17th century Britain, the members of the House of Commons were elected by districts called boroughs. These boroughs were built permanently into the land. Originally, the idea worked. People worked the land and lived around castles and the castles stayed put. However, as technology advanced and more people worked away from agriculture, people began to move around. The result was that boroughs became wildly disproportionate.

In one famous British example, the whole town of Old Sarum was essentially abandoned. Its inhabitants moved downriver and rebuilt a new settlement. However, before it moved, the old town had been granted two seats in the House of Commons. For hundreds of years, the abandoned piece of property was electing two British lawmakers at every election. At the time, there were about 400 members of the House of Commons. Those elected were simply friends or appointees of the vacant property's owner. Presumably their "election" wasn't cheap, either.

By comparison, Old Sarum (population: zero) was more influential than some of the new industrial cities with millions of residents and no seats in the government.

Our Constitutional census and redistricting is meant to prevent corruption by protecting the values of our votes. If millions of people left Wisconsin and moved to California, Wisconsin would likely lose a seat in the House and California gain one. If the whole village of Saukville left the 60th State Assembly District, the lines would be redrawn such that Duey Stroebel represented roughly the same number of constituents as Dan Lemahieu in the district north of here. If the city of Port Washington created a new subdivision with 400 people, its wards would be redrawn so that all of the aldermen were representing about the same number of residents.

Right now, reports are starting to trickle in about the new districting. Where it is a process designed to protect votes, it is also a political process where controlling parties may try to gain competitive advantages. Minority party districts get stronger as the majority party tries to concentrate those votes together. Majority party districts get weaker as the majority party tries to expand and gain new seats, giving up a sure seat for a chance at two potential seats.

With that in mind, the district maps get crazy. Unrelated areas are lumped together. Right now, our Congressional District includes Sheboygan, West Bend, Menomonee Falls and suburbs of Milwaukee going West on Interstate 94. The proposed new district, according to some published reports, would keep us with Sheboygan, but now with Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Redgranite, Portage and Columbus (our new congressman would be Tom Petri).

At the state level, Assembly Districts in Milwaukee County may sometimes look snake-like, just to keep voting groups together or apart. This is allowed under federal law, so long as the new district does not overly distort minority representation.

Pay attention in the next few weeks, and you will see that you may have moved. You may have moved within the city, you might have moved within the state and — as an Ozaukee County resident — you likely will have moved at the federal level.  All without leaving your house. 

Stay tuned, because you may have an entirely new representative to get to know this fall.

Linda Nenn June 28, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Redistricting is critically important to watch. Our Congressional district twists and turns and has no simple geometric shape encompassing the number of residents necessary to constitute a District, as the ruling political party attempts to shape the districts to assure the seat will most likely vote in a particular way, Dem or Repub. Not true in all states, but definitely in WI. We may lose a WI Representative this year, as happened in 2000, as population is declining in WI. Our District lines were redrawn, basically assuring a Repub would be elected. Crooked politics in my opinion.

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