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Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region


Report Released at Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Symposium.

On April 30, the Midwest Democracy Network (MDN) released a groundbreaking analysis of redistricting stemming from three years of work and 24 grants totaling over $4 million across the Midwest. Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region was featured at the Who Holds the Crayons: How Other States Draw Legislative District Lines Symposium at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. The Joyce Foundation funded symposium included national experts on redistricting including Peter Wattson, former Secretary of the Senate of Minnesota, who delivered the keynote address.

Creating legislative districts is a critical element of American democracy. How the lines are drawn determines whether voters in different communities get an equal say in picking their representatives, and whether representatives feel accountable to the people who elect them.

MDN—a Joyce Foundation-supported alliance of political reform nonprofits committed to strengthening democratic institutions and practices—organized under the banner Draw the Line Midwest and built coalitions to advocate for redistricting reform in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Following the 2010 US Census, Draw the Line Midwest advocated for an open, transparent process using a broader range of map-drawing criteria, so that new districts could provide fair representation and reflect the competitiveness of politics in Midwest states.

Draw the Line Midwest reformers succeeded in putting a public spotlight on redistricting. They also won some modest changes; most states, for example, held more public hearings than they had in the past. But overall, 2011–2012 redistricting in the Midwest remained secret and partisan. The public and the minority party were shut out of the actual map-drawing. Politicians in power—Republicans and Democrats—drew the districts to gain maximum political advantage, sometimes with startling results. In Wisconsin, for example, Democrats won majorities of the 2012 votes cast for the state legislatures but Republicans took the majority of seats. Only Minnesota, where the partisan process stalemated and the courts took over, ended up with an open process; seats in that state’s legislature closely track the votes cast in the November 2012 elections.

Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region outlines recommendations to help reform advocates beginning to work for changes in 2021 and beyond. Those recommendations include

  • Open up the process: Redistricting should occur in an open and transparent manner and the public should have access to all relevant data.
  • Set clear criteria fully communicated to the public: Criteria should balance competitiveness, preserving communities of interest, and respecting minority voting rights.
  • Solicit meaningful, informed public input: A significant number of public hearings should be held before and especially after maps are proposed.
  • Take the process away from partisan control: Redistricting should be carried out by carefully crafted independent commissions.
  • End prison-based gerrymandering: State and local officials should use prisoner home addresses for redistricting purposes.

A major section of the report, State by State: How the Game Was Played in 2011, provides political context, a discussion of Draw the Line Midwest partners’ advocacy activities and how congressional district maps changed. These interactive maps, see above, for Midwest states show US congressional and state legislative districts, plus demographics and partisan breakdowns in states where such data was available.

Most Americans expect great things from our nation’s leaders. The Joyce Foundation aims to make these expectations a reality by strengthening our democracy and balancing political influence and promoting campaign finance reform. We believe in informing and empowering citizens so they can participate in our democracy. The Foundation works to promote open and ethical government, fair and competitive elections, and an independent judiciary.

Read the full report here. 

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