Illinois lawmakers should hold Pritzker to his ‘fair maps’ promise
Even without a constitutional amendment, there are changes lawmakers could make as soon as session resumes to get politics out of mapmaking.
In Illinois, politicians pick their voters – not the other way around.
Lawmakers tend to like safe districts. Illinois and 35 other states give state lawmakers the power to redraw their own state legislative districts and protect their seats against challengers from the opposite party.
This practice has deprived Illinois voters of a meaningful choice at the ballot box: In 2018, nearly half of the seats in the Illinois House and a slight majority of those in the Senate that were up for re-election faced no opponent.
But states are trending toward taking mapmaking out of the hands of lawmakers.
Will Illinois be next? Fair maps was one of the big promises upon which Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned.
“We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, and I have supported this effort for years,” he wrote as a candidate in 2018. According to the nonprofit CHANGE Illinois, Pritzker donated $50,000 to a fair maps initiative in 2014.
So when will the governor deliver on this promise?
Politicians draw the legislative map every 10 years. Here’s how it works:
Both the House and Senate must approve a map, which the governor may then veto or sign into law. If state lawmakers can’t get a map to the finish line, party leadership appoints an eight-member committee to hash things out. If the committee can’t agree on a map, the secretary of state appoints a tiebreaking ninth partisan by random chance. Whichever party wins the lottery for the ninth seat then draws the map.
Pritzker and state lawmakers should support a constitutional amendment to ensure independent mapmaking. One such proposal has already gained bipartisan support in the Illinois Senate.
But even without a constitutional amendment, there are statutory changes lawmakers could make as soon as session resumes to get politics out of mapmaking following the 2020 Census.
One step Springfield could take would be to form an independent redistricting commission tasked with drafting a legislative map for the General Assembly’s approval. An ideal commission would exclude lawmakers themselves, as well as their family members, staff and Springfield political lobbyists.
Further, commissioners should be encouraged to consider boundaries of local governments and communities sharing social or economic interests and redraw districts with public input; and ignore the consequences of those revisions for incumbent officeholders or the influence of their own political party.
Before Illinois lawmakers can recover voters’ record-low trust in their political leadership, they must first recover voters’ trust in the legitimacy of the districts they’re elected to represent.