Western Courier

Illinois needs redistricting

Jacob Tomlinson

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On Aug. 25, 2016, the all-powerful Illinois Supreme Court delivered its infinite wisdom in a 4-3 decision, ruling against a ballot initiative for redistricting reform.

The ballot initiative, also known as the Independent Map amendment proposal, sought to change the way Illinois draws legislative districts, which is also known as redistricting or, in the specific case of Illinois, gerrymandering. Let me spell all of this out for you before moving on to the boundless knowledge of the majority in this particular Illinois Supreme Court decision.

To be clear, redistricting laws are different depending on which state is examined, so the following comments are only directed at the Prairie State.

First, what is redistricting? Redistricting refers to the process that occurs every 10 years, during which the congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn. This occurs because, well, it’s the law; don’t worry, it’s an important law. After the census is completed, congressional seats are reapportioned based on the number of citizens in each state; the same is true for state legislative seats. Redistricting is important because citizens are constantly moving, being born and dying. Thus, the need for representatives to represent roughly the same amount of people
is important.

The districts that are drawn determine who votes where. Those individuals, in turn, vote for representatives who will vote on legislation that will ultimately have an impact on our lives
as citizens.

Knowing this, the problem with redistricting is not why it is done, but rather how it is done. This is where the term gerrymandering is important. Gerrymandering refers to the conscious effort to manipulate these legislative districts in order to gain an electoral advantage with voters, who would generally be assigned to districts based on their political party affiliation. That is, politicians can cookie cut (see Illinois’ legislative districts, for example) districts so that they contain a population primarily of their own party. Gerrymandering, in effect, creates uncompetitive districts in which legislators can feel safe because the majority (or large majority) of the district is affiliated with a particular party. In other words, gerrymandering is unfair to citizens who just want good representation.

What did the ballot initiative do? It would have literally only put the Independent Map Amendment on the ballot in this coming election so that we, the citizens of Illinois, could vote on whether we wanted redistricting reform.

 What does the reform look like? It looks like a few things. Instead of Illinois politicians drawing legislative districts, an independent commission of 11 commissioners would be responsible for creating and submitting a redistricting plan to the Secretary of State. The members of the commission would ultimately be selected by an Applicant Review Panel, which would be comprised of other citizens of Illinois who were vetted by the Auditor General in order to ensure they were ethical, non-partisan and understand all of the procedures. The commissioners, once they had been selected based on their characteristics required by the amendment (e.g., diversity, applicable analytical skills, “ability to contribute to a fair redistricting process”), would draw the legislative districts in a manner that did not discriminate against Illinoisans for their political affiliations, population, race/ethnicity, etc. Therefore, gerrymandering in Illinois wouldn’t be an issue. Best of all, this process would be completely transparent and open to the public.

However, Illinois citizens don’t have to worry about voting on this amendment come Nov. 8, because four out of seven Illinois Supreme Court justices said so. The argument Justice Thomas Kilbride presented in his majority opinion is that the Independent Maps amendment proposal was not narrow enough in scope for citizen-driven amendments. That is, the Illinois Constitution, in Article XIV, Section 3, states, in part: “Amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV.” Article IV addresses our legislative branch. Kilbride, writing for the majority, asserts that because the Auditor General is invoked in the Independent Maps amendment, the proposal is not narrow enough in its scope.

What the majority fails to recognize is that Article XIV, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution was created in order to, as Chief Justice Garman wrote in his dissent, “provide the people of this state with the power to act in situations where it is against the legislature’s self interest to do so.” As I pointed out before, redistricting is a significant job the legislators take on and is clearly an issue in which the politicians that make up the legislature would want to hold on to for electoral gain. Those same politicians in the majority certainly have the motivation to draw the districts in order to stay in office. Thus, for Justice Kilbride to argue that this measure is not narrow enough
in scope is to say this citizen-driven amendment does not focus on a single objective (i.e., modifying the framework of Article IV, Section 3), which is erroneous and unjust.

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Illinois needs redistricting