Previous attempts to end gerrymandering in Illinois – by putting people, not politicians, in charge of drawing legislative district boundaries – have come up short. But a coalition of advocacy groups like Change Illinois, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are backing a new attempt.
“Gerrymandering is ruining our democracy,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake.
The bipartisan-backed measure Bush is sponsoring (Senate Joint Constitutional Amendment 18/House Joint Constitutional Amendment 41) would put redistricting in the hands of a 17-member commission, no lawmakers or lobbyists allowed.
Backers aim to get it passed by the General Assembly sometime before the end of May, in order for the question to go before voters in November. Should voters agree to amend the constitution, the new process would be in place to draw the set of maps setting boundaries for state legislative and Congressional districts for the next 10 years.
The proposal has bipartisan backing, though it’s Democrats who call the shots in Springfield and who, given their supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and control of the governor’s mansion, would be giving up getting to draw the map and, therefore, the ability to tilt the map to the party’s advantage.
“Unfair maps only benefit the party in power and strips the minority party of any agency. The effect of gerrymandering on our entire political system is that it leads to extreme partisan politics and polarization. Manipulating a district to benefit a party only pushes incumbents to adopt an extremist political manifesto in an attempt to hold onto that seat. Democrats become more liberal, Republicans more conservative and we lose any chance at a healthy balance between the two extremes of the political spectrum. Moderates and centrists have bene pushed to near extinction,” Bush said.
Commissioners would be selected by the Illinois Supreme Court’s chief justice and the most senior justice from the opposite party; they’d have to take into consideration factors such as potential commissioners’ party affiliation, gender, race and where they’re from.
The members of the Independent Redistricting Commission would be charged with determining district boundaries in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, so that each district would be generally equal in population, would “provide racial and language minorities with the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.” Districts should also be designed to be contiguous and compact.
“We can’t have honest government and hold politicians accountable if we don’t have truly competitive elections,” Madeline Doubek of Change Illinois. “As a sprawling federal corruption investigation continues, we should start to end corruption by ending gerrymandering where it begins when the maps are drawn. Politicians picking their voters clearly is the epitome of a conflict of interest.”
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