Pritzker breaks promise to end Illinois gerrymandering

Pritzker breaks promise to end Illinois gerrymandering

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised on the campaign trail and repeatedly after that, including earlier this year, to end partisan gerrymandering of political maps. Now he says, ‘Nevermind.’ He trusts lawmakers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been clear on two issues: He wants to increase taxes and he has repeatedly vowed to veto any partisan, gerrymandered legislative districts.

It turns out that second promise was meaningless, as the governor now intends to trust state lawmakers to draw a fair map.

“So now, as we reach the end of this session, and I look to the Legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map, I’ll be looking to it for its fairness. And that’s something that’s vitally important for our state, as an effect on the next 10 years and representation throughout the state,” Pritzker said April 27.

Republican House leader Jim Durkin said Pritzker must suffer from “retrograde amnesia.”

Pritzker in 2018 campaigned on the need for independent congressional and state legislative redistricting. He repeated that vow as recently as January, when his spokesman said Pritzker “has been clear he will veto a partisan map.”

He said it is now too late for an independent commission, which would require amending the Illinois Constitution. He said the Democrats’ map was fair after the 2010 population count and he trusts them to be fair again.

“The map that was put together for the last 10 years started out with a very strong leaning toward fairness, which was the Supreme Court rulings of the past dictated the drawing of minority districts in the state to start with that map – and then you have to draw from there,” he said.

But it’s not too late to create an independent commission, Illinois House Assistant Minority Leader Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said. Pritzker earlier said if there were not an amendment, he would still support creation of an independent commission, Butler said.

Butler added that he has a bill ready to go, but Democrats have blocked the effort rather than Republicans as Pritzker now claims.

“I would say it’s your friends and the Democratic Party that are not engaging. And we need to have you hold to your word, governor, that you will veto, veto, a partisan map like your office has said,” Butler said April 27 on the House floor.

Both parties have abused the mapmaking process when they were in power to benefit their parties by squeezing out opponents and keeping their incumbents safe. The results have been that in the 2018 election, nearly half of the Illinois House of Representatives seats were uncontested. In the Illinois Senate, 20 of 39 senators up for election faced no opponent.

That hurts voter turnout, because there is little incentive to vote when there is no choice on the ballot.

Illinois just received its total population count, showing it lost a seat in Congress after losing population for the first time in 200 years of census counts. It is not expected to have detailed census redistricting information until late September as a result of delays caused by COVID-19.

That leaves Democratic state lawmakers using estimates to advance the redistricting process before the June 30 deadline, or else they risk losing their majority advantage to determine both state and congressional maps.

Control leads to political map abuse. The 2011 map drawn by Democrats forced incumbent Republicans into the same district to either face primaries against each other or abandon re-election. Republicans did the same thing in 1991 when they drew the maps.

After the June 30 deadline, Democrats would yield majority control over drawing the new maps to a bipartisan committee of four members from each party. The committee would have until Aug. 10 to approve maps – still too early for the census data.

If this, too, fails, a ninth person would be randomly selected to help draw the maps by Oct. 5, giving superminority Republicans a 50-50 shot at control over the legislative maps.

The safety valve for years seemed to be Pritzker and his vow to veto a gerrymandered map. Scratch that.

The map is legally required to be compact, contiguous, substantially equal in population and allow racial or language minority communities to influence the election of their preferred candidate. If estimates instead of the official census data is used, the map could be vulnerable to legal challenges.

If the courts determine the maps do not pass constitutional tests, they could send them back to the legislature with specific orders. That happened in 1982, when the Illinois maps were deemed to discriminate against racial minorities.

Illinois’ history, scholarship and experiences of other states all argue for putting mapping power in the hands of a nonpartisan redistricting commission made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents to keep politicians from carving out uncompetitive districts. California and Arizona have seen more competitive elections and fewer safe seats after implementing such commissions.

Illinois could also automate the process, allowing maps to be drawn randomly by algorithm, and then to be selected by an independent commission.

Public support for redistricting reform is widespread. A 2016 movement to put a fair maps question on the ballot received over 550,000 signatures from Illinois voters before it was derailed by the Illinois Supreme Court. According to polling by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 67% of Illinoisans favored the idea, compared to only 22% who were against it.

Pritzker was one of those Illinoisans. Now, not so much. Unless he is. Or isn’t.

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