Illinois is under ‘extreme’ threat of drawing another Madigan election map

Illinois is under ‘extreme’ threat of drawing another Madigan election map

Illinois is listed as one of the states under ‘extreme’ danger of partisan gerrymandering of its state legislative and congressional redistricting maps. Gov. J.B. Pritzker can stop that threat.

Illinois is one of 27 states under extreme threat for partisan gerrymandering, according to an April report by Represent.Us.

The report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan reform group rated all 50 states on a “threat” index using a scale of “minimal” to “extreme.” Illinois earned the rating of “extreme” based on the report’s five different threat factors:

  • Can politicians control how election maps are drawn?
  • Can election maps be drawn in secret?
  • Can election maps be rigged for partisan gain?
  • Are the legal standards weak?
  • Are rigged election maps hard to challenge in court?

Illinois received a “high” threat rating across the board for congressional redistricting, and the same for three out of the five listed threats for legislative redistricting. Illinois earned good marks, however, for transparency and high legal standards in its legislative redistricting – citing the requirement for public hearings and the statutory requirement that the state draw (1) crossover districts, in which minority populations might be numerous enough to vote with majority population voters to elect candidates favored by the minority population; (2) coalition districts, in which racial and language minorities may act as a coalition to elect their preferred candidates, and (3) influence districts, in which minority population voters may be numerous enough to influence the outcome of an election without electing a candidate of their choice.

Despite those safeguards cited by the report, Illinois was unable to avoid the highest possible rating on the threat index. Nor should it. Legislative redistricting is particularly vulnerable because it is the lawmakers themselves placed in charge of drawing their own districts. Incumbent lawmakers draw districts that protect themselves from competition.

And given its track record, Illinois’ threat rating should come as no surprise. The state has a long history of partisan gerrymandering, undertaken by Democrats and Republicans alike. As in many of Illinois’ dubious legacies, former speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan for over three decades derived much of his power from creating unfair maps that kept lawmakers loyal or in line.

Even before he was speaker, Madigan took charge  of redistricting Illinois after the 1980 census, allowing Democrats to dominate in the 1982 election even though population trends favored Republicans. Madigan was elected speaker of the House the next session.

But the map that won him the office was challenged for racial discrimination and other issues. In 1982 a panel of federal judges found the redistricting plan unconstitutionally diluted the votes of Black Illinoisans.

The Democratic Party under Madigan would go on to draw Illinois’ legislative districts in 2001 and 2011, drawing lines to force Republican incumbents into the same districts to face primaries or abandon reelection. Democrats created districts that were so uncompetitive that in 2020, 44% of the Illinois House of Representatives seats were uncontested and 11 of 22 Illinois Senate candidates faced no opponent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The single time Republicans drew the districts in 1991 was the only redistricting period when Democrats lost the House and the only time since 1983 that Madigan lost his speakership for two years.

While polling reveals the majority of Illinoisans support reforming the redistricting process, John Hooker, the former Commonwealth Edison lobbyist charged with attempting to buy Madigan’s influence, successfully sued to get the Independent Maps initiative off the ballot through a 4-3 decision in the Illinois Supreme Court in 2016.

Even now that Madigan has stepped down as speaker, it won’t be easy to prevent the party in power from giving Illinois another map that favors its candidates. The one person who could stand in the way is Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has repeatedly promised to veto any gerrymandered map.

But with political pressure mounting, Pritzker has already backpedaled on that promise. Despite his talk of vetoing unfair maps, he has claimed the last politician-drawn map was in fact a fair map, and that he trusts the General Assembly to pass a fair map again. His past statements, and the evidence, belies that claim.

The 2011 map drawn by Democrats forced incumbent Republicans into the same districts to either face primaries against each other or abandon re-election. Republicans did the same thing in 1991 when they drew the maps. And this cycle, Democrats are poised to saddle the loss of its congressional district on Republicans and gain a seat of their own, widening their current 13-5 majority to a 14-3 Democrat to Republican majority. This kind of partisan gamesmanship is exactly the sort of thing that a fair map should avoid, and why Illinois rated an “extreme” risk rating for gerrymandering.

Pritzker made a promise. He should keep it. Districts should be drawn based on input from residents, and not for partisan advantage. Otherwise, Illinois will be stuck with another Madigan map for another decade.

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