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Wyoming gets C-minus grade on voter map redistricting

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Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) Wyoming got a C-minus grade in Common Cause's new report card on gerrymandering for voter district maps drawn after the 2020 Census. 

Jenn Lowe - executive director of the Equality State Policy Center - said the Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions, which spearheaded the process, did a lot right. 

They took public comments seriously, and she said she believes the maps sent to the Legislature were good. They met key objectives and ensured the state wasn't breaking any laws.

"Then throughout the legislative process, those maps were changed," said Lowe. "And they were changed in the 11th hour, on the last day of the session, behind closed doors. So at the very end of this process, all of that great work that the interim committee put together was put into question."

The report found evidence of gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries in order to create unfair advantages for a political party, when lawmakers created maps meant to favor incumbents in elections. 

The final maps also had deviations in the number of people in districts that slightly surpassed federal constitutional requirements.

Dan Vicuna, redistricting and representation director for Common Cause, said states receiving higher grades put some distance between the people responsible for drawing maps and elected officials. 

He said who gets to decide which neighborhoods and towns are included in a voter district matters in states where legislatures control the process, and especially when one party is in control and can act in secret.

"When elected officials have this power without restraint, they generally don't have a lot of interest in community feedback," said Vicuna. "Their primary goal is to protect their own incumbents to ensure partisan advantage."

Lowe said she believes the report makes a strong argument for Wyoming to create an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission to draw future maps. 

She said the current all-volunteer citizen-led legislature has enough on its plate.

"And this is a process that another group of citizens can engage in and help with," said Lowe. "And keep those who stand to benefit - or lose - the most by these maps from being responsible for preparing them."

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.