Illinois remap change could bring power to the people

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

A lot of Illinois voters believe the fix is in when it comes to how the state determines where legislative district boundary lines fall on the map — and, consequently, which political party has more power.

It’s impossible to argue otherwise. Illinois legislative districts — the boundaries that determine from where voters select their representatives for the state legislature — haven’t been mapped with fair elections in mind for decades. Either Republicans or Democrats, depending on how things play out, seize control of the process every time the map is redrawn.

The result is gerrymandering and dividing up communities of common interest to protect incumbents and to give one party or the other an advantage come election time. It’s why, for example, the 96th House District picks up predominantly Democratic sections of Decatur and east Springfield — giving Democrats an advantage in that district.

The only real rules governing the redistricting process in Illinois are that districts be compact and contiguous and that each have roughly the same population. After that, the process becomes secretive and purely political.

Voters now have an opportunity to put their foot down and demand reforms that would ensure an open, transparent, independent and less-partisan map redraw process in Illinois.

A group called Yes for Independent Maps is circulating petitions throughout Illinois to get an amendment on the fall ballot that would give voters a chance to say, yes, they want to change the map-redrawing — or to say, no, they like the process the way it is.

For all the complaining voters do about Illinois Democrats, especially House Speaker Michael Madigan, who currently controls both houses of the legislature, the governor’s office and the state’s purse strings, this certainly is something Illinoisans will want to research and consider.

A 2012 survey by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale showed 70 percent of registered voters favor taking map-redrawing power away from the General Assembly and giving it to an independent commission.

Currently, the remap process calls for the General Assembly and the governor to create the districts. If they can’t come to an agreement, an eight-member commission is convened that includes two appointees each from the four legislative leaders.

If the commission can’t come to an agreement, then a lottery takes place to determine a ninth member to be a tiebreaker. Each party submits a name. The secretary of state randomly selects a name from a hat (literally), and that name tips control of the process to one party or the other. There is little transparency in the process.

The proposed amendment calls for maps to be drawn by an appointed, 11-member commission. Ineligible for the commission would be elected officials, state workers, state or federal lobbyists, state contracts and immediate family members of those who are not allowed to serve. The state auditor general would be involved in narrowing the field of commission applicants.

In the end, the commission would have four Democrats, four Republicans and three independents, each of whom represent different areas of the state. Some would be picked by lottery, others by party leaders. It would host statewide hearings before adopting new maps, and all of its proceedings and communications would be subject to sunshine laws.

In all, the proposed process appears to be superior to the current warped system that occurs behind closed doors with party leaders and with little to no accountability for the outcome.

Go to independentmaps.org to find out more about the amendment.

— GateHouse Media Illinois