Ill. Party Establishment Uses Deceptive Tactic to Squash Nonpartisan Redistricting Reform
Update: This article has been updated to include the Independent Map Amendment's response to the People's Map mailer.
ILLINOIS - People's Map, a group formed by partisan-dominated interests, is opposing redistricting reform backed by the Independent Map Amendment to implement independent redistricting in Illinois. The reform, resurrected by the Independent Map movement, would place the power of redrawing state House and Senate districts into the hands of an independent commission.
People's Map, skillfully named, is arguing against the resurrection of the redistricting amendment because the group says it will hurt minorities within Illinois.
"We believe the results of allowing an independent commission to draw the map will be anything but fair to minorities, and will prevent minorities from electing the candidates of their choice," People's Map wrote in a mailer to Independent Map Amendment supporters.
The members of People's Map, including union leader Karen Lewis, also wrote they would "take note of who assists in the destruction of the middle class and minorities" in the state.
Interestingly, the Independent Map Amendment was created to follow voting-rights requirements, specifically to protect the demographic and geographic diversity of the state. The Independent Map Amendment argues:
Democracy and government work best when legislators are representative of and accountable to the people who elect them. The system in Illinois is not working. Instead of putting the people’s interests first, state legislative district boundaries are drawn intentionally to preserve and to strengthen the power of those already in power.
In an August 24th response to the People's Map mailer, the Independent Map Amendment stated:
We write to set the record straight. Independent Maps in an independent, diverse and nonpartisan effort. Members of both parties, as well as independents, support this amendment. The Independent Maps Board of Directors is diverse [...] and its members would not be involved in a proposal that would hurt minority communities. In fact, it's the People's Map group that is clinging to the status quo.
In 2014, the amendment was deemed unconstitutional by Cook County Judge Mary Mikva and failed to make it on the November ballot. Judge Mikva reasoned the amendment unconstitutional because it barred members serving on the independent commission from public office for ten years.
The revised independent redistricting commission would consist of 11 nonpartisan members and be open to the public. If passed, the amendment would improve election competitiveness and voter choice.
There was also an issue in the 2014 campaign with the credibility of the 500,000 signatures gathered. This time, the nonpartisan effort has hired a firm to collect and validate the 600,000 signatures they plan to obtain.
"I think we can all agree that there is an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw the districts that they will run in," Christie Hefner, direct of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a member of the Independent Maps board, explained.
Currently, legislators redraw the districts after every U.S. Census. The Illinois House and Senate must approve the changes and send it to the governor to sign or veto. If the assembly and governor's office are held by the same party, then it is easy for legislators to redraw districts along partisan lines.
In 2012, out of 177 seats in the Illinois General Assembly, 101 were uncontested, only 16 were competitive, and only 7 incumbents lost their seats, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The argument for the Independent Map Amendment is conditioned upon making sure all elections are competitive, but, more importantly, that the districts are not drawn for strictly partisan purposes. A nonpartisan redistricting process ensures that districts are drawn to enhance voter choice and overall democratic accountability.
Photo Credit: The World Trade Council