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View from around the state: House seats are rigged in Wisconsin

Donald Trump was right. The system is rigged.

But not the vote for president. The election for the highest office in the land was legitimate. Even the conspiratorial Trump seems to agree it was fair, now that he’s won.

What’s blatantly stacked against the public is the way Wisconsin and many other states select their representatives for the U.S. House. The politicians have strategically shaped Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts to protect the incumbents of both major political parties.

It’s a sham.

The election for House seats should have been hotly contested. After all, the statewide votes for president and U.S. Senate were tight.

Trump, the Republican nominee for president, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by just 1 percentage point in the Badger State. At the same time, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, held his seat by little more than 3 percentage points against Democrat Russ Feingold.

That’s strong evidence Wisconsin is a battleground with lots of healthy competition. Wisconsin swings in favor of Republicans some years, and toward Democrats in other years, depending on the mood of voters.

But when it comes to House seats, blowouts are the norm. None of Wisconsin’s eight congressional races — not even an open seat in northeastern Wisconsin — was decided by fewer than 20 percentage points this election. And some seats, such as the 3rd District in western Wisconsin, weren’t even contested.

Top state lawmakers, at the direction of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, strategically redrew the seats after the last major census using computers to analyze voting trends over time. The districts, many of which are oddly shaped or crisscross county lines, heavily favor the Republicans in five seats and strongly favor Democrats in three others.

The 3rd District shows how absurd the political plotting has become. The district features a fist-shaped appendage that pulls the Democratic-leaning city of Stevens Point into its boundaries, helping U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, get re-elected. At the same time, the district was redrawn to move the GOP stronghold of St. Croix County from the 3rd into the 7th District. That helps protect U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau.

Both incumbents enjoy essentially permanent seats in Congress, while the voters in both districts lose influence and choice.

The solution is for Wisconsin to adopt a nonpartisan process, similar to Iowa’s, in which a neutral state agency draws voting district boundaries, following strict rules requiring districts to be as compact as possible. Two of Iowa’s four congressional seats were decided by fewer than 10 percentage points, which is competitive. And only one was a blowout of more than 20 points.

Wisconsin voters should demand a fair, nonpartisan process for drawing congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 census.

— Wisconsin State Journal

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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