Momentum is growing for fairly drawn legislative maps
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There’s been a lot of attention nationwide about whether our elections would be fair and accessible to everyone qualified to vote.
In Illinois, elections, retirements and other developments mean we’ll have a new governor and at least 40 fairly new lawmakers taking office in January. What can they and their veteran colleagues do to ensure we have fairer elections?
One of the singularly significant things they could do would be to follow the lead of some other states and vote to give Illinoisans a chance to approve the creation of an independent redistricting commission.
One of the overlooked stories of last week’s election is that voters in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah approved independent redistricting in their states. Earlier this year, Ohio voters approved a question requiring new maps to garner bipartisan support to be enacted.
In Michigan, a nonpartisan group of citizens that led an effort called “Voters not Politicians,” first collected more than 425,000 signatures to get a proposition on the ballot that was overwhelmingly approved last week. More than 61 percent of voters approved of taking away the power to draw legislative and congressional maps from state lawmakers, according to Ballotpedia. Instead, Michigan voters gave the power to a 13-member commission composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. A majority of that commission can approve the maps after the 2020 census.
Imagine this happening here: It all started with a Facebook post after the 2016 election by 29-year-old Michigan voter Katie Fahey and grew into a multimillion-dollar volunteer effort.
There, Republicans in the majority drew the last maps.
“A key selling point of the proposal has been that it would take the drawing of maps out of the backrooms and in to the light of day, with ample opportunities for the public to have input through commenting on proposed district maps,” reported the Detroit Free Press.
In Missouri, nearly 62 percent of voters approved Amendment 1, which made changes to redistricting, lobbying laws and campaign finance limits for legislative candidates, according to Ballotpedia. Now, a nonpartisan state demographer will draw district lines guided by “partisan fairness and competitiveness.” Existing commissions for the state House and Senate already can propose changes that adhere to the fairness guideline, but those must be approved by a 70 percent vote of those commissions, according to KMOV4.
After our record-setting, multimillion-dollar governor’s race and some multimillion-dollar legislative races, you might be curious about the campaign finance limits approved in Missouri. Senate candidates cannot receive more than $2,500 per person per election cycle, while House candidates cannot accept more than $2,000 per person per cycle.
Out west in Colorado, more than 70 percent of voters passed two amendments putting independent legislative staff in charge of drawing maps. Then, separate commissions made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents must approve those congressional and legislative maps. The boundaries must be competitive, according to the Pacific Standard, meaning there is “a reasonable potential for the party affiliation of the district’s representative to change at least once” every census.”
Currently, Democrats hold the majority in the House and Republicans hold the Senate majority in Colorado.
In Utah, just more than 50 percent of voters approved an independent redistricting commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. A bipartisan “Better Boundaries” group argued voters should pick their politicians.
It seems like such a logical concept, but here, and in a majority of states, one political party or the other within the legislature draws maps, often behind closed doors, following each census. Attempts to collect voter signatures to put an independent commission on the ballot repeatedly have been rejected here by the courts. Last year, a coalition of groups tried a different approach — pushing for lawmakers to put the question on the ballot directly — but despite overwhelming support from state senators, the constitutional amendment never was called for a vote.
After the 1990 census, Republicans gained control of redistricting and drew maps that favored their party and protected their interests. Democrats have had control and drawn maps to their advantage since then.
Now, it’s a new day. Momentum is growing for fair maps. Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker long has said he favors an independent redistricting commission. We will have at least 40 new lawmakers each of us can try to influence, along with about 130 incumbents.
Why so many incumbents? Because in Illinois, the parties draw maps to protect them and to take away your your vote, your voice, your choice. Think about this. Last week, there were 39 Senate seats up for election, but only 18 had more than one candidate running. In the House, all 118 seats are up for election every two years, but only 64 were competitive.
One reason people don’t run is because they know the fix is in. The maps are rigged. The Illinois politicians are picking their voters.
We’ve got another chance to change that with a new governor and scores of new lawmakers. Like our neighbors in other states, let’s fight for fairer maps and elections.
Madeleine Doubek is the Better Government Association’s vice president of policy.