Thanks to a mathematician, we have a glimpse into what Illinois could look like without gerrymandering. Warren Smith, a PhD and co-founder of the Center for Range Voting, made a map of Illinois’ congressional districts completely free of political influence.

Compare his map on the left to our current one on the right:

Side-by-side comparison of Illinois' current congressional map (right) and a map drawn using the shortest splitline algorithm (left).

A campaign is underway in Illinois, led by Yes! for Independent Maps, to take redistricting out of the hands of the General Assembly.

Earlier this month, Yes! activists submitted 532,000 signatures to the Illinois State Board of Elections in support of an initiative that would establish an independent commission of citizens to set the state’s legislative districts. The commission would draw the boundaries that define the state House and state Senate districts, but not the congressional districts. Lobbyists, public officials, and anyone with a conflict of interest would be excluded from the commission.

Whether the initiative will be on the ballot in November is uncertain. A close ally of Speaker Michael Madigan has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the initiative.

Smith drew the Center for Range Voting’s map using the “shortest splitline algorithm.” To start, he draws the shortest possible line that cuts the state into two halves with roughly equal populations. He keeps cutting the halves into halves using the same technique until he has the correct number of districts. In Illinois’ case, that’s 18.

If successful, the Yes! campaign would not necessarily use this or any similar algorithm to draw the state districts. That is one of the reasons Smith is skeptical of independent commissions to draw districts. “About various initiatives in various states at various times to save us from gerrymandering, it is important to realize that most of them, historically, have been bullshit packaged to look like chocolate pudding,” Smith said. “What is real is actual mathematical criteria. The algorithm is designed with exactly that goal in mind. Very simple. Totally unique. Totally unbudgeable by any congressman.”

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