Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has managed not to screw something up. Monday he issued a reasonable explanation of Dan Ahlers’s anti-gerrymandering redistricting commission initiative… and he did it in exactly the statutorily maximum of 200 words:
The Constitution currently requires the Legislature to establish legislative districts every ten years. This amendment removes that authority from the Legislature and grants it to a redistricting commission. The commission will redistrict in 2021 and every ten years thereafter.
Under the amendment, the commission consists of five registered voters. The following individuals each appoint one member: the majority leader of the House of Representatives; the minority leader of the House of Representatives; the majority leader of the Senate; the minority leader of the Senate; and the Secretary of State.
A commission member must have the same party registration, or be registered as unaffiliated with a party, for three continuous years immediately prior to appointment. No more than two commission members may belong to the same political party. For three years prior to and three years after a commission member’s term, the member cannot be a candidate for or be elected to public office, nor be a political party official.
Each district shall be equal in population to the extent possible and mapped in a grid-like pattern. Adjustments to the districts may be made based on state and federal law, and other factors as prioritized in this amendment [Attorney General’s Statement, 2019.08.27].
If Attorney General Ravnsborg doesn’t want redistricting done by a gerrymandering Legislature (and you know his GOP minders don’t!), he didn’t put any overt bias against the plan into his explanation. The only weakness of the explanation is that it took a sequential approach, addressing the elements of the amendment in the order written and simply stopping when he ran out of word space. One could argue that AG Ravnsborg etceteralizingly omits the most important part of the proposal, the criteria that prohibit rigging the map:
Each senatorial district shall be equal in population to the extent practicable and mapped in a grid-like pattern across the state. Any adjustment to a senatorial district may be made solely based on the following criteria, in the following priority order:
- Complying with the Constitution of the United States, this constitution, federal law, and creating geographically contiguous districts;
- Minimizing divisions of counties;
- Minimizing divisions of municipalities;
- Minimizing divisions of census blocks;
- Using visible geographic features;
- Creating geographically compact districts to the extent practicable; and
- Maintaining the same or similar socio-economic areas to the extent practicable.
The commission may not use party registration, voting history, or place of residence for any legislative incumbent or candidate to establish a senatorial district [Dan Ahlers, initiated amendment text, as submitted to the Attorney General in June and approved by the A.G. 2019.08.26].
Who draws the map is important, but how they draw the map is more important. The main point of this amendment is to ensure that it won’t matter whom our Legislative leaders and the Secretary of State pick or to what party the mappers belong; these rules written into the Constitution will preclude any political hanky-panky among the mappers and dictate a fair map for all voters.
If Ahlers can hurry up and submit his petition, circulator handout form, fiscal note, ballot question committee organization statement, and sponsor’s affidavit to the Secretary of State today, he and his allies can start collecting petition signatures at the State Fair this week!