An effort to redraw Illinois’ election maps has built at least some momentum following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to punt the issue of gerrymandering back to the states.
Under the current map system each state Senate district must include two House districts, using a method known as “nesting.” This can sometimes mean cities, towns and counties that have similar demographics can end up in different districts. The idea of redrawing the state’s map is nothing new, but could be more likely since the Supreme Court’s decision.
One of the sponsors of a state Senate bill, SJRCA4 under consideration is a measure from Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo.) Schimpf said the new maps would make the state’s elections more competitive, leading to a “healthier democracy.” The bill would create an independent commission that would be charged with drawing the election maps.
“The current broken system allows politicians to pick their constituents, instead of letting the people choose their representatives,” Schimpf said. “So far, Democrat leaders have refused to allow this and several other redistricting reform proposals to advance, which is extremely unfortunate.”
On the same day the Supreme Court issued its ruling on gerrymandering Senate President John J. Cullerton was meeting with a group that has been advocating for the redrawn maps for several years. A spokesperson for Cullerton said the goal of the meeting was to “try to find common ground and trying to find areas that we could agree upon and possibly change state law.
The spokesperson said the discussions remain in the very early stages, and there are still many questions about proposals like Schimpf’s, including who would appoint the people responsible for drawing the map.
The effort to redraw the state’s election maps has also gained momentum in the other chamber of the Statehouse. Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) said the state’s democracy is “built upon the premise that voters choose their elected officials,” but that “in Illinois a partisan map-drawing process that allows majority party lawmakers to draw their own maps and essentially choose their voters is used.”
In a similar bill to Schimpf's in the Senate, Hammond is co-sponsor a bill that would have the maps redrawn after each 10-year census. The House bill was filed in January 2019 but was blocked by the Republicans and did not receive a committee hearing.
“Through this Supreme Court decision, the drawing of unfair legislative maps can and will continue in Illinois until the state Constitution is amended in a manner that ends the practice,” Hammond said in a statement.
If the Illinois Constitution is to be amended it will need the support of the public. Bloomington resident Jeffrey Tompkins said Illinois is in “desperate need of redistricting reform.”
“I wish we could look to everyone’s better nature to do the right thing, but I think politics enters the situation at hand and we end up with spiderweb looking districts,” Tompkins said.
Tompkins has worked on several boards and commissions involving elections in both Illinois and Arkansas, including working the Office of the Arkansas Secretary of State where he was involved in redrawing election mapsl.
Under a new system using Geographic Information Systems software, Tompkins said there’s “no reason we can’t have districts that represent both geographically and demographically the constituents in those districts.”
Having seen how the process works firsthand in Arkansas, Tompkins said he knows it will not be an easy transition in Illinois.
“You’re going to have to get a governor that’s willing to do the right thing, or perhaps you could have an attorney general’s office that’s courageous enough to make that issue come to the forefront,” he said.
Governor J.B. Pritzker told the Belleville News-Democrat that he will “veto any map that is unfair.”
“It’s the right thing to do," he told the paper. "We’re going to have to make sure that here in Illinois we’re not gerrymandering, that we’re drawing maps that are fair and competitive. That’s what’s best for the voters of the state, that they have choices when they go to the ballot.”