Transparency, accountability needed in drawing of legislative boundaries

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an edited excerpt of testimony Madeleine Doubek, executive director for CHANGE Illinois, gave before the Illinois Senate Subcommittee on Redistricting for DuPage County on March 18.

By Madeleine Doubek

Special to the Daily Herald

CHANGE Illinois is a coalition and alongside our diverse partners in more than 30 organizations, we long have advocated for an independent and transparent redistricting process that results in equitable maps.

We testified before the full committee about the need for a transparent and accountable map-making process. We asked very simple questions, hoping for answers that would help the public better understand how to engage in this year’s remapping process. Illinoisans across the state want and need a transparent and independent process. A survey conducted by CHANGE Illinois last year found that 75 percent of Illinois voters support independent redistricting. A proposal we have introduced with Sen. Melinda Bush, SB2554, would help meet these demands.

The questions we asked need to be answered if we expect people to participate in shaping their districts in a meaningful way. I am not alone in my concerns about how these hearings are proceeding already. The short list of witnesses today illustrates the problem. We scrambled, on short notice, to try to ensure that people in Du­Page County were aware this hearing is taking place. What is evident from only a handful of people being here is that not nearly enough has been done to ensure awareness, transparency and a meaningful opportunity for people to engage.

If this process is truly meant to be inclusive, then what steps were taken to ensure that the public was made aware? What additional steps were taken to make sure that historically disenfranchised communities were made aware of today’s hearing to talk about their representation? For instance, I know there are majority minority Latino districts that touch DuPage County. How was this hearing communicated to those communities? What steps were taken to ensure that language access is not an impediment?

Donna Limper, the DuPage Chapter Chair for the democracy reform organization RepresentUs, was one of the people who could not make last-minute arrangements to be at today’s hearing. She works as a full-time teacher and needs more time in order to be here to advocate for her community. Donna asked us to share with the committee, “If they want citizen input, they need to hold these hearings after working hours with a longer lead time.”

There were a number of community and good-government organizations whose representatives testified yesterday and all of us, independently, said these committee meetings need more transparency.

In order to meet these challenges, our proposal, SB2554, is a plan that would ensure more equitable and transparent maps. We ask that the committee implement these necessary reforms immediately:

• Hold a minimum of 35 hearings, well publicized, that not only give people a chance to testify but ensure that their feedback gets a response.

• Implement fairness standards that prioritize compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the Illinois Voting Rights Act to make certain that communities of color have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. And require that mappers respect communities of interest and geographic boundaries that already exist. Most importantly, Illinoisans do not want maps that favor or punish incumbents.

• It’s good to hear a website has been established that makes public all information used in the remapping process. That web address must be advertised extensively. The website should include testimony, map submissions by the public, proposals being drafted by the committee, and all other documents and communications relevant to its work. A compliance report must be issued describing how the plan meets legal requirements and responds to testimony and maps submitted by the public.

• Establish a period between the introduction of the proposed map and votes by the chambers to ensure that additional public hearings are held and the public has the time to understand and respond to proposed maps.

• Fix the implementation date of the recently enacted No Representation Without Population Act, a law that will end prison gerrymandering. The newly enacted law still deprives representation for those who are incarcerated for another decade.

The purpose of today’s hearing was not clear beforehand. Should people have been prepared to present testimony on what the districts in their area should look like? Should they have their community of interest map proposals ready for the subcommittee? Based on what data? Or is the hearing simply to talk about how the committee will conduct itself over the next few months? None of the answers to these questions has been made clear, making it even more difficult for people to participate.

It is imperative that more information be provided about how these hearings will be conducted, what will be discussed, and that even greater notice is given to the public. Consider making the invitation list public and advertise these meetings in the media.

You have a responsibility to make it abundantly clear to the public they can participate. Our recommendation would be for subcommittees to postpone meetings so leaders can define what data will be used and so that uniform rules are established to ensure people have ample time to prepare and to incorporate more transparency and accountability into the process.

Illinois’ districts belong to the people and they have made clear they expect an independent and transparent process that values the principle of one person, one vote. We urge you to meet their clear expectations.

• Madeleine Doubek is executive director of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit that champions ethics and efficiency in government and elections in Illinois.

Feeds,Region: DuPage,Local,Region: Suburbs

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March 29, 2021 at 01:09AM

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