ILLINOIS - Political reform in Illinois comes slowly, but one group is renewing the effort to put redistricting back in the hands of the people.
After each decennial census, a state’s district maps are redrawn. In most states, politicians draw the boundaries which generally favor the majority party.
As in the case of Illinois after 2010, Democrats held the governor’s office and veto-proof majorities in the state legislature. Consequently, they redrew district boundaries without Republican input. This move assured Democrats benefited for the next ten years.
The Independent Map Amendment was the most recent group to seek redistricting reform. Earlier this year, the Independent Map Amendment merged with another group to lead the charge. Fresh off a recent victory with automatic voter registration, the new face of redistricting reform is Change Illinois.
Change Illinois represents a broad array of business, political, and civic leaders from the Land of Lincoln.
Executive Director Ra Joy is a former senior aide to Democratic US Rep. Jan Schakowsky. Former Republican Lieutenant Governor Corinne Wood and former Illinois Democratic Representative Kathy Ryg are board members.
The board chair is John Sirek of Chicago’s McCormick Foundation. Named for the famous Chicago Tribune publisher, the Foundation’s mission seeks to cultivate “communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens.”
Despite ballot initiatives with wide support, the voters of Illinois did not vote on redistricting reform in the last two cycles. With state justices striking down each initiative, obstacles to reform are political and legal, rather than popular.
However, Change Illinois hopes resolution in Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case will open up the possibility of reform in Illinois. To date, Whitford v. Gill awaits a decision from the US Supreme Court over whether Wisconsin lawmakers illegally drew district boundaries to benefit Republicans.
In an editorial earlier this year, Joy explained that Change Illinois is anxiously watching the result of the US Supreme Court's ruling. Upholding a lower court's ruling that Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps are illegal may provide hope for Illinois. As he writes, Illinois elections are fundamentally uncompetitive:
"For context, because of partisan gerrymandering, about 40 percent of elections for both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature were noncompetitive. By contrast, more than 60 percent of Illinois legislative elections were noncompetitive last November. What ails Wisconsin galls Illinois." - Ray Joy, Change Illinois
No reform can be enacted until after the 2020 census. Although only three years away, any successful effort to alter government or political business in Illinois usually requires patience.
In an email sent from the organization, Change Illinois indicates that they intend to bring up redistricting in the 2018 midterm elections. However, in the current round of reform efforts, time may also matter in addition to political and judicial obstacles. Yet regardless of the hindrances, citizens are working and preparing to reform their state's government.