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Editorial: Don't let Mike Madigan throw your vote away

Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan

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Chances are, your vote in Illinois matters less than ever.

Gerrymandering — the dark art of drawing legislative boundaries in a way that denies the opposition party a fair and fighting chance — is such a big problem nationwide that President Obama called it out on Tuesday in his State of the Union speech.

“We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” the president said.

But it is hard to imagine this undermining of democracy could be worse anywhere than in Illinois, where Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has done a brilliant job over decades of controlling, twisting and subverting the map-making process.

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As a result of Madigan’s extreme gerrymandering games, employing the most sophisticated possible computer analysis, Illinois primary and general elections this year likely will be less contested and less competitive than ever. That, according to an important new study released Thursday, is the undeniable and pathetic trend.

In the 1982 elections, 90 of the 118 races for state representative were contested, meaning at least two candidates had to duke it out. In the 2012 elections, after three legislative district remaps, only 47 state rep races were contested. Why bother to run if your chance of winning is a snowball’s chance in hell?

And many of those supposedly “contested” races weren’t seriously competitive either, according to the study published by the reform group CHANGE Illinois. In 1982, there were 19 competitive House races, meaning the losing candidate received 45 percent or more of the vote. In 2012, there were only 8.

It should surprise no one, then, that Democratic candidates for the House won 60 percent of the seats in 2012, though they received only 52 percent of the total vote.

How’s that for a healthy democracy? As Obama also said Tuesday, “Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter.”

Madigan is determined, above all else, to maintain a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly. We should add, of course, that the Republicans would do — and historically have done — exactly the same thing if they controlled the remap process.

“By any measure, the level of competition and competitiveness in legislative elections under the last four partisan maps is extremely low and getting worse,” according to the authors of the report, Cynthia Canary, a longtime leader of the remap reform movement, and Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

What can you do about it? Support a promising new effort to create a more independent map-making process.

A proposal likely to be on the November general election ballot would create a commission with up to four Democrats, four Republicans and at least three people not aligned with either party. The Illinois auditor general, selected by legislators from both parties, would pick most members of the new commission from a panel of applicants. Seven votes would be needed to draw new maps. Deadlocks would be broken by a special commissioner named by the ranking Democrat and Republican Illinois Supreme Court justices.

Go to www.MapAmendment.org to learn how to sign a petition to get this measure on the ballot. And vote for it.

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