Lightfoot calls for independent commission to redraw Chicago’s 50 wards
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot voiced support for establishing a fair mapmaking process in Chicago ahead of the 2020 census.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is calling for an independent citizens’ commission to redraw Chicago’s 50-ward map, a process that has long been in the hands of powerful city aldermen.
In a June 10 interview with WTTW, Lightfoot said she “absolutely” considers Chicago’s current map a product of gerrymandering. Lightfoot’s push for redistricting reform comes ahead of the 2020 U.S. Census, after which the city will redraw its ward boundaries. Chicago’s approved its current ward map in 2012.
“We can’t afford to keep carving up communities in a way that isn’t fair to them and doesn’t give them fair representation,” Lightfoot told WTTW, highlighting the Back of the Yards and Englewood neighborhoods as examples of unfair gerrymandering.
Chicago’s 2nd Ward is one of the clearest examples of gerrymandering, with its zigzagging boundaries cutting across multiple north side neighborhoods. When city leaders approved Chicago’s current map, it left former Ald. Bob Fioretti, who represented the ward, with none of his previous constituents. Fioretti, a political opponent of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, subsequently lost re-election and said the gerrymandered map set him up for defeat.
At the state level, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised to veto a map that is “drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies.” Political and opaque mapmaking has been central to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s record-long grip on power in the Statehouse. In 2016, Madigan’s lawyer filed a successful lawsuit challenging a citizen-led attempt to place the Independent Map Amendment on the ballot.
Chicago and Springfield alike are in need of redistricting reform. After the upcoming 2020 census, federal and state legislative districts will be redrawn on Pritzker’s watch. And while the governor has yet to put significant pressure on the General Assembly, state lawmakers should take steps to amend the Illinois Constitution to guarantee a fair and independent mapmaking process.
In January, state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, introduced Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 4, which would place state redistricting in the hands of an independent commission. SJRCA 4 – like all proposed constitutional amendments in Illinois – must pass with a three-fifths majority in both the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate before being placed on the ballot.
While lawmakers might resist giving up their own influence in favor of fair mapmaking, they should instead listen to their voters: According to polling by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 67% of Illinoisans favor an independent mapmaking process; fewer than 22% oppose it.
Lightfoot is right to push for an independent redistricting commission in Chicago, which would help stamp out gerrymandering and ensure better representation of neighborhood interests. Pritzker should follow Lightfoot’s lead and pressure state lawmakers to give voters a voice on an independent redistricting commission at the ballot box in November 2020.