Unless legislative map process changes, Pritzker’s veto threat means little
Illinois legislative maps are drawn by state lawmakers who pick their voters, instead of the other way around. Without independent mapmaking, nothing will be changed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s threat to veto a partisan map.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker again promised to veto any gerrymandered electoral map, a pledge dating back to the campaign. He made that promise again when state lawmakers on Jan. 5 said they plan to push during the lame duck legislative session for an independent citizen’s commission to draw the new maps.
Pritzker’s spokesman said he, “has been clear he will veto a partisan map” and believes Illinois’ maps must reflect the state’s diversity to ensure “minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”
Without a change in how political map boundaries are drawn, veto threats will not stop self-interest from ruling a process that both parties have abused to protect their members from election opponents and deny voters a fair choice. The Illinois General Assembly saw 52 candidates with no opponents on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The 102nd Illinois General Assembly that will draw the new maps kicks off Jan. 13 with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s pursuit of another term as leader. While he faces challengers for the first time in 35 years thanks to his implication in the ComEd bribery scandal, he is lobbying his Democratic majority to stay in power largely on the promise that he is the one who can deliver the maps.
The next congressional and state legislative district maps must be drawn by the end of June, using information from the 2020 Census released in late December. The districts will influence elections for a decade, until after the 2030 Census. Control of the speaker position heavily influences how the electoral map will be drawn.
Gerrymandering is a continuing problem that allows politicians to draw districts to help them avoid accountability by making sure they don’t have to compete for votes. But for some states, including Illinois, the problem is pronounced with districts that obviously snake past certain groups of voters to gather up others.
“This disregarding of village and township lines disadvantages the residents of these villages,” state Rep. Jackie Haas, R-Kankakee, told WCBU radio. “It’s inexplicable that someone who lives in Momence can be represented by someone who lives in the area, but someone across the street from them cannot. Unfortunately, this example is not the only case.”
Regardless of whether Madigan or someone else holds the speaker’s gavel, neither Pritzker nor Illinoisans will have much say under the current system in drawing equitable maps which more accurately represent population shifts in Illinois and keep constituents with similar interests together. The map process must change so incumbents stop grouping voters to keep themselves safely in power.
Amending the Illinois Constitution to place redistricting in the hands of an independent redistricting commission and relying in part on mathematically generated maps will help restore power to Illinois voters and give them more choices.
Illinoisans have pushed hard for independent maps, but state courts have twice denied them the opportunity to vote on amending the state constitution to allow the practice.
In 2014, a lower court rejected a redistricting amendment on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. In 2016, over 563,000 Illinoisans signed a petition to put an independent redistricting amendment to the ballot. Illinois Supreme Court members struck down the petition by a slim 4-3 vote. Last year, inaction by Springfield lawmakers prevented a similar amendment from appearing on the Nov. 3 ballot.
On Jan. 5, several House Republicans introduced House Bill 5873, pushing for this decade’s map to be drawn by an independent committee that is free from the influence of politicians. The proposal would create an 11-person commissionchosen through a combination of a random draw and four seats decided by legislative leaders, all from a pool of applicants.
Pritzker’s opinion is clear, and the state lawmakers believe he will support them, but actions are what matter. Pritzker should back commonsense redistricting reforms rather than hoping his veto threats will stop Madigan or his successor from drawing map lines that keep lawmakers familiar and loyal.