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April 4, 2020

2/19/2020 10:44:00 AM
Redistricting gets bipartisan push
State Sen. Dale Righter is among state lawmakers seeking to reform the state's current system of drawing voting maps.

Righter (R-Mattoon) is one of the co-sponsors of Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18 (SJRCA18), also known as the Fair Maps Amendment, an effort to empower voters by removing lawmakers from the redistricting process.

The newly-filed constitutional amendment would take sitting legislators out of Illinois' legislative map-drawing process and prevent them from drawing their own districts.

"The concept of fair maps isn't a partisan or novel idea. It's common sense reform that puts an end to a system that gerrymanders legislative boundaries for the benefit of lawmakers and to the detriment of voters," Righter said.

"Our very own governor expressed his support for the idea while running for office in 2018, saying that he had supported the effort for years," Righter added. "Well, now we're to a point where support is no longer enough, we need to see action."

SJRCA18 would establish an independent, 17-member commission appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court and charged with drawing the Congressional and General Assembly maps.

Seven commission members would be nominated from each political party and three commission members would not be affiliated with either political party.

The public would be allowed to provide comment and submit maps during the map drawing process for consideration by the commission.

The current amendment includes prisoners in population counts and redefines the requirements about who can serve on the commission.

People ineligible for the commission include: lobbyists; persons appointed, running for or elected to a position with the state, federal, or local government; a paid consultant or campaign representative of a political candidate or political action committee; an individual with an ownership interest in an entity with a state, local or federal contract; and appointed or elected officials of a political party.

Persons must not have held those positions in the past five years, and people working for them and their immediate families are ineligible as well.

Righter contends that current process essentially allows politicians to pick their districts, stifles voter input and protects partisan incumbents. Passing SJRCA18, he said, would send a strong message that "the status quo in Springfield is no longer acceptable."

"The first step to rooting out corruption in Springfield is to have voters choose their legislators, not the other way around," said Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods), another amendment co-sponsor.

The amendment has drawn bipartisan support and backing from both the Chicago area and downstate. It's also backed by the same group that attempted to reform the redistricting process in the past three elections, CHANGE Illinois - the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics.

"Redistricting reform is supported by a majority of legislators on both sides of the aisle," McConchie said. "There's no excuse why we can't get a question on the ballot for the voters to decide this fal."

Legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after the latest U.S. Census data is released. The purpose is to make sure an area's population receives adequate representation.

However, political parties often re-draw legislative boundaries in ways most likely to give them an advantage in future elections.

For example, a 2014 analysis by the Washington Post named Illinois' 4th congressional district, consisting of western Chicago suburbs such as Cicero and Brookfield, among the 10 most gerrymandered in the country.

The district, which elected Democrat U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García in 2018 by a 73-point margin, resembles a pair of earmuffs. The two sides of the district are connected by a narrow patch of grass under Interstate 290.

"The time for an end to gerrymandering is now so that we're not saddled with another 10 years of maps that stifle competition and suppress voters' choices," Madeleine Doubek of CHANGE Illinois said.

With the 2020 Census set to begin soon, she said, this is the year the measure must pass.

Gerrymandering, CHANGE Illinois claims, "produces uncompetitive elections, career politicians and governmental deadlock all because politicians have little to no reason to fear the consequences of being thrown out of office."

Illinois, the group contends, is a prime example of the damage gerrymandering can do. Almost 50 percent of state legislative races were uncontested in 2018, with incumbents facing no opposition.

Also, 82 percent of the 2018 state legislative races were uncompetitive, meaning the winner received more than 55 percent of the vote. In past elections, the percentage of uncompetitive races has exceeded 90 percent.

For the March primary, 54 out of 118 Illinois state representatives seats are uncontested. Twelve of the 20 state senate seats up for re-election won't face opposition from the other party.

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