ELLSWORTH — Pierce County is formally joining the gerrymandering conversation for the first time and may be asking Pierce County voters to weigh in.
Pierce County Board will review a first reading Nov. 12 for a resolution to establish a countywide referendum to place on the April ballot. The referendum would allow voters to endorse or reject a nonpartisan redistricting procedure for redrawing legislative and congressional district maps.
Since the Supreme Court ruled the courts have no hand in the congressional matter in June 2019, it is up to the states to make redistricting initiatives.
As of September 2019, 48 Wisconsin counties have passed fair maps resolutions according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan, non-profit group.
Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee recommended the referendum item Nov. 4.
Jeff Holst, chair of the committee and the County Board, cast the sole nay vote for the recommendation and said he spoke out against committee member Ruth Wood’s “one person, one vote” comment.
“I believe we have ‘one person, one vote’. I take offense to that statement. Where are you going to find anyone that’s nonpartisan?” Holst said.
“We're fully aware that this may not have any dramatic or utilitarian effect, but to pass on the opportunity to give our citizens voice count equally, when you have a gerrymandered district, a lot of those votes become insignificant in the voting process. I think just patriotically it's important for us to stand behind this,” Wood said.
“We hope Pierce County will take this step and step up. ” Paula Lugar, another member of the committee, said while presenting the item at the Nov. 4 meeting. Lugar showed the committee a map from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign which labels each county as having passed resolutions or not.
Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm spoke up during the meeting, saying measures had been taken in 2010 to draw fair maps and Pierce County became a “poster child” for how to gerrymander a district. He referenced the county's designation on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign resolutions map.
"But this map reminded me of something my mother told me. ‘If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump with them?’ We may not be really good followers but we’re pretty good leaders. I’m just not one to waste the county’s time and resources on something that Legislature’s just going to do their own way,” Feuerhelm said.
Finance and Personnel Committee member Michael Kahlow moved to approve the item after saying he was pessimistic that a nonpartisan group could be found, but was still going to hope it would be possible.
The Pierce County Board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Courthouse boardroom. This is also the annual budget meeting.