The Rock County Board wants voters’ opinions on the upcoming state redistricting process.
The board voted Jan. 23 to add a referendum to the April 7 ballot, asking voters whether the state Legislature should create a nonpartisan procedure for drawing legislative and congressional district plans and maps.
Except for the cost of publishing a notice in The Gazette, the referendum will not add to the cost of the ballot process, Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years after the census. The process has become increasingly politicized and has raised concerns that the majority party is able to redraw the lines to keep itself in power.
Supervisor Richard Bostwick proposed the referendum resolution after a constituent asked him about redistricting.
“After talking with the constituent, I realized that it was a good idea to do this,” he said.
A redistricting resolution was proposed in 2014, but it did not include a referendum question. Bostwick said he wanted to raise the topic again after seeing other counties conduct referendums.
“The fact of the matter is, this (nonpartisan redistricting) is enjoying bipartisan support statewide,” Bostwick said.
“We’re not breaking any new ground here. We’re just going along with what the trend is statewide,” he said. “Other counties have already had referendums, and they’ve all passed handily, and those are in counties that both lean Democratic and lean Republican. It’s something people are just thinking is a good idea. Fairness in elections is always good.”
Counties don’t have much say in the redistricting process because it’s done at the state level. However, the resolution could help residents show elected officials what they are thinking, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said.
“The argument for doing a referendum is simply that it’s the way to measure the sense of the community,” Smith said. “They can register ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to whatever the issue is.
“In this circumstance, I think the folks who want to put this on the ballot see this as an opportunity to have another data point that says the people of Rock County think this on the issue,” he said.
“If there’s a majority in favor, then advocates for that will use that as another piece of data to say, ‘Look, Legislature, your constituents in Rock County want this, and therefore you should do it,’” Smith said.
Smith said he thinks redistricting might be a popular subject because of polarization in the political landscape.
“In the environment we’re in today in the country, that (unfair district lines) is just another example, I think, of something people identified as a lack of civility or lack of ability to get things done potentially,” he said.
Smith said other counties have put similar questions on the ballot. Even though the county won’t be able to make any immediate decisions after the ballots are cast, giving the public a chance to comment on redistricting is useful.
“I encourage people to vote and take advantage of an opportunity to make their voice known on an issue that may be important to them,” he said. “Regardless of whether people feel their vote will have a direct impact—because it’s something the county can’t directly do anything about—it’s still a chance to register their opinion, and the process of understanding what the public thinks is important.”