Corruption is cemented in Illinois when politicians draw political maps to protect their incumbents and their party’s chances of winning the most seats in an election.
Republicans did it in Illinois after the 1990 Census, and Democrats have been doing it ever since because they’ve won control of the mapmaking process.
Maps drawn by political leaders result in far fewer competitive and contested races, something you might notice when you cast your primary election ballot. In essence, your choices are being taken from you.
For years, hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters repeatedly have signed petitions to try to get a chance to weigh in on a more independent attempt at drawing political boundaries. And for years, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s lawyers have blocked every effort in court and won.
But there is another way to get redistricting reform before the voters. Illinois lawmakers simply could vote themselves to directly put a question on the ballot, asking voters if they want to try to draw districts by a different method.
During the last election cycle, 105 Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois House voted to do just that. They voted for putting an amendment to voters that would have turned over mapmaking — not to political leaders — but to a more independent commission whose members were to have been chosen by state Supreme Court justices.
That effort never made it to a ballot because the Illinois Senate voted, instead, on different mapmaking changes that kept the power in the hands of ruling politicians. In a cynical ploy, Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton had the state Senate and House both take votes on different versions of mapmaking legislation. That allowed lawmakers in each chamber to say they were in favor of redistricting changes on the campaign trail without ever actually having to implement a new way.
The legislation supported by 105 House lawmakers really was a solid attempt at more independent mapmaking. And so, a coalition of community and good government groups, including the Better Government Association, used it as the model for a new mapmaking attempt now drafted, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 43.
The old amendment would have had Supreme Court justices naming eight people to an independent map commission from judicial districts around the state. HJRCA 43 has one court justice from each of the two major political parties naming 16 people to a commission: seven each from the two major parties and two independents.
The commission would draft Illinois House and Senate maps, as well as congressional district maps. A public website for the commission would be created, with all of their work and communication open to the public. All of their meetings would be livestreamed and subject to the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts.
Where the previous legislative attempt at independent redistricting, HJRCA 58, called for 15 hearings before a map was proposed and five more afterward, the new plan calls for 20 public hearings before a map is proposed with 10 afterward.
Both attempts include language to meet federal voting rights’ requirements, protect racial and minority communities, as well as common social and economic communities.
HJRCA 43 would require commissioners to meet certain ethics and financial disclosure requirements, too.
Another census will be conducted in just a few years and new maps are crafted after that. The governor, the attorney general, the senators and representatives we elect this year all could have a say in determining whether we get a new chance at a fresh mapmaking approach. Do you know where your candidates stand?
Some of the governor candidates participated in a redistricting survey you can find at http://www.changeil.org/2018survey/. Governor candidates also were asked recently if they would veto a map produced by politicians. State Sen. Dan Biss and Chris Kennedy would not commit to a veto pledge. All the answers are at Capitol Fax. The candidates for attorney general were asked what they were willing to do to push for a more independent map process. State Sen. Kwame Raoul said he supported politician-produced maps because he was concerned independent efforts would pack minorities together and dilute their voting strength. You can listen to the Democratic attorney general candidates’ answers at the BGA-ABC7 Chicago livestream and catch Republicans Gary Grasso and Erika Harold at a similar livestream.
If your incumbent voted for HJRCA 58 a few years ago, is she or he willing to push for HJRCA 43 now? Will any challengers commit to supporting the new amendment? Ask them. Get as much information as you can before you vote. Let’s start holding all our politicians accountable. It’s time for an end to gerrymandered political districts that set corruption into our system in stone.
Madeleine Doubek is policy & civic engagement director at the Better Government Association.