Redistricting Illinois petition is a step for better state government


By Brad Barber

As I walk to class, I often see the large banners for athletics that read “Illinois. Our State. Our Team.” I love the marketing campaign because it claims inclusiveness of our entire state.

Unfortunately, The University’s athletics may be the only Illinois body that can claim this inclusiveness because our state government is designed to be far from inclusive when representing our population.

Gerrymandering — the redrawing of legislative districts to give a political party an advantage in elections — has been rampant in Illinois for decades, and the last general election has sparked one group into asking for a change to fix this. This change may address the problem, but Illinois politics cannot be fixed without further steps by its citizens.

A petition in Illinois calls for the people to control the redistricting process so that the districts can return to more natural shapes. Currently, state politicians redraw the Illinois state and federal legislative districts by voting on a new map in the Illinois’ legislature.

The petition drive, Yes for Independent Maps, started last year because 77 percent of Illinois voters believe that corruption is widespread in the Illinois government.

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    The drive’s proposed solution is an Illinois constitutional amendment requiring an independent commission, composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and three independents to be responsible for the redrawing of the state government maps every 10 years, which would become effective in 2020.

    Yes for Independent Maps needs 300,000 signatures by May for the constitutional amendment to be placed on the November ballot. A recent News-Gazette article reported that the campaign groups in Peoria and Champaign-Urbana led downstate Illinois in the number of signatures for the petition, despite most of the financial support for the organization and promotion of the drive coming from Chicago, which shows this is truly an all-state effort.

    I predict that this drive will succeed and has a decent chance of passing in November because it is not an outrageous proposal and is unlikely to draw negative media attention or voter anger.

    However, if we stop with this petition, Illinois will not succeed in combatting corruption in state politics.

    I respect Yes for Independent Maps for their attempt. Illinois has consistently been ranked as one of the most corrupt states in the Union. A change like this could help but will likely be circumvented even if implemented. Supporters of the petition boast the positive impact a similar petition has had in Iowa — but Iowa does not have the Chicago Machine. This is why we need to do more.

    If Illinois wants fair redistricting, it needs to take two more steps.

    The first is making this amendment effective immediately. The proposal would not go into effect until 2020, after the next census, when the maps are traditionally redrawn. Yes for Independent Maps claims the amendment can get more support from current Illinois legislators this way.

    This possibility of different employment in the near future for Illinois state legislators affords them the ability to support this initiative without worrying as much about how it could affect their jobs.

    However, Chicago politics will not take a six-year break. Allowing a delay in implementation would give the party bosses six years to think of ways around it.

    Because this would be a constitutional change, we do not have to play by any of the current rules on redistricting. The amendment could be altered or other legislation could be passed so that redistricting comes more often in new years (say 2015 instead of 2020), or that the redistricting stays in the same years but there is a special redistricting in 2015 to capitalize on this amendment.

    Yes, making this alteration would be difficult, but it would be significantly easier if this was Yes for Independent’s goal from the start.

    The second initiative Illinois should embark on is expanding this redistricting effort to both the state and federal governments. This would be a little trickier, which is probably why Yes for Independent Maps did not take on this challenge. This change would have to result from a separate petition drive or a successful legislative campaign at the state capitol or the federal capitol. The federal government would have to be consulted on this because the power to redraw federal districts comes from the U.S. Constitution.

    If we want Illinois to be truly represented, though, we should take efforts to implement a federal redistricting change. The days when states had most the power ended with the Civil War. In an era of active federal government, we need our federal representatives to be accurate about what Illinois wants, not what the gerrymandering politicians want. In the last election, the Republican-Democrat split went from 11-8 to 6-12, due in large part to redistricting shenanigans.

    Illinois needs to change. Redistricting our state legislative districts in 2020 is a good step, but ending the support with this petition is foolish.

    Until then, maybe the Illinois delegations should contact the athletic department for inclusive advertising ideas.

    Brad is a graduate student in Law. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @b_rad_barber.