We can, finally, redistrict gerrymandering out of existence.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court added to its docket two cases that challenge gerrymandering, the practice of politicians drawing legislative maps that favor their political parties or themselves over the preferences of the voters. Reformers hope the court will find the practice unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, lawmakers are making plans for a constitutional amendment that would take redistricting out of the hands of politicians in this state. Various proposals are in the works, and it is imperative that the best one survive, get put on the ballot in 2020, and be approved.
Because gerrymandering makes a joke of democracy.
Last year, the Supreme Court took a pass on a case involving Maryland and on another involving Wisconsin — where gerrymandering gave Republicans a 25-seat majority after the 2018 elections, even though Democrats won 53 percent of the statewide vote. Burt now, the court is weighing a case involving North Carolina and another from Maryland.
Gerrymandering has been around since the early days of the Republic, but powerful computers and big data have made the practice much more effective. Fortunately, those tools also can be used to draw maps that are fairer to the voters.
Last year, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign proposed a way to take politics out of redistricting by letting a carefully designed algorithm draw the maps.
Whether the court finally acts, Illinois should. Past attempts to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot through statewide petition drives have failed, so it is up to the Legislature to step up and get it done. Many legislators in both parties have said they are in favor of creating an independent commission to draw legislative maps, reducing the influence of partisan politics as much as possible.
“When you talk to average voters, it has been an incredibly well-supported issue,” said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, who is sponsoring a measure in the Senate called the Fair Maps Amendment.
But lawmakers caution that any new system, whether it is based on an independent commission or algorithms, must be designed carefully with an eye to whom the ultimate deciders will be.
Normally, the Legislature acts on proposed constitutional amendments only in even-numbered years. This year is likely to be an exception, but for an anti-gerrymandering amendment.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to get an amendment for a progressive income tax on the ballot this spring to demonstrate to bond-rating agencies, state vendors and the public that Illinois is serious about getting its finances in order. But lawmakers are unlikely to consider any other constitutional amendments in this session.
That means the Legislature has until April of next year to put together a redistricting plan that makes sense and put it on the November 2020 ballot. Other proposals besides the Fair Maps Amendment have been dropped into the legislative hopper, though none has made it out of committee. The focus should be on getting the job done right.
Gerrymandering has not skewed fair representation in Illinois as much as it has in some other states. For example, Democratic candidates for the Illinois House got 58 percent of the vote in November, and the party wound up with 60 percent of the seats.
But as long as gerrymandering remains the political norm — red state or blue state — democracy is under attack.
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April 5, 2019 at 07:18PM