When it comes to gerrymandering, Illinois flunks big time

by Mark Richardson
Illinois News Connection

CHICAGO - A national watchdog group studied how all 50 states handle the biennial process of redrawing their congressional district lines - and has given Illinois a failing grade.

Common Cause issued its report this week, analyzing how effective each state has been in drawing fair, independent and balanced district maps. Only two states - California and Massachusetts - earned an "A" while 17 states were in the "D" or "F" category.

Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director for Common Cause, said there was a consistent thread among the states that rated poorly.

"The states that rank near the bottom shared some things in common," he said, "which include a lack of transparency and an unwillingness to give the public much, or any, notice about when meetings would take place; having redistricting hearings for the public during traditional working hours."

The report said Illinois was a "nearly perfect model" for everything that can go wrong with redistricting. The state Legislature scheduled hearings in places and at times when many people could not attend. The report said the result was heavily gerrymandered in favor of Democrats, which drew lawsuits from a half-dozen civil-rights groups.

To improve the process, Vicuña said, Illinois needs to develop a nonpartisan system or commission with broad representation to draw up districts, hold well-advertised hearings in public places after work hours, increase language assistance and improve access for people with disabilities.

"States that find a different path and take that power away and create citizen commissions, create bipartisan, multi-partisan processes for drawing districts - keeping political insiders boxed out of the process, and making redistricting community-centered - has resulted in great success," he said.

Vicuña said Illinois lawmakers drew congressional and state legislative districts through the legislative process, using it in this cycle to protect a Democratic supermajority. Reformers have twice put ballot initiatives in front of voters to create independent, citizen redistricting commissions in the last decade, winning both times. However, both laws were subsequently struck down by the IllWhinois Supreme Court.

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