FAQs: Redistricting Reform
CHANGE Illinois believes redistricting is at its best when citizens are in charge of the process so that political maps expand civic participation, improve public confidence, and boost participation in elections and governance. See below for questions and answers about redistricting reform as well as the path forward.
ABOUT REDISTRICTING REFORM:
Q: What is redistricting and why should anyone care?
A: Each state legislative district should have a near equal number of residents. Because of population changes, legislative district boundaries must be redrawn after each 10-year Census. When the redistricting process is finished, each district should have roughly the same number of people within its boundaries.
That sounds simple enough, but there are many different ways to draw those lines for 118 House districts and 59 Senate districts. District lines can keep everyone in a municipality together in the same legislative district and/or keep similar communities together in the same legislative district. Alternatively, district lines can split a municipality apart and divide similar communities into different legislative districts. Sometimes enough minority group members are kept together in the same district to aggregate voting power to influence who wins an election, and sometimes minority voting power is diluted by splitting it apart.
Q: How is redistricting done now in Illinois?
A:The General Assembly has the power to draw the maps. The legislative leaders of the party in power – no matter which party is in power – have drawn the maps to protect favored incumbents and improve the party’s chances of winning as many House and Senate seats as possible. Instead of voters selecting legislators to represent them in Springfield, the legislators choose which voters they will represent.
Q: What if neither party controls the House and Senate? How do they agree on new legislative boundaries?
A: They could reach a compromise, but this has only happened once. According to the 1970 Constitution, when legislators and the governor cannot agree on new district boundaries, an 8-member redistricting commission is formed. The members are appointed by leaders of the House and Senate. If they can’t reach a compromise, the Illinois Supreme Court provides the names of a Democrat and a Republican, and the one name that is drawn out of a replica Abraham Lincoln stovepipe hat at random becomes the “tiebreaker” – putting the tiebreaker’s party in complete control of drawing the maps.
Q: What’s so bad about letting the political parties draw the maps?
A: As long as political parties draw the map, the parties’ primary objective will be to protect the interests of the party in control and its preferred incumbents. As a result, in the last several election cycles more than half of the legislative races were uncontested.
When there is little competition, there is little debate about issues that matter to voters. When voters don’t have a choice in an election, many don’t become engaged in the process at all and democracy suffers.
Q: Has any research been done on the subject of independent redistricting?
A: Yes. “Partisan Advantage and Competitiveness in Illinois Redistricting,” published by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, explains why the Illinois legislative redistricting process is broken and offers solutions. The report was researched and written by Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at University of Illinois at Springfield, and Cynthia Canary, former executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The paper was written originally for CHANGE Illinois. Click HERE for the report.
Additionally, “Redistricting Reformed,” a 2014 briefing paper by CHANGE Illinois, summarizes what happened in states where redistricting reform became a reality. The authors are Nicholas Stephanopoulos, assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, and Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel at Campaign Legal Center. Click HERE to see the paper.
Finally, reports and transcripts of panel discussions from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s 2013 symposium: “Who Hold the Crayons? How Other States Draw Their Legislative District Lines” can be found HERE.
ABOUT THE PATH FORWARD:
Q: What happened to the citizens’ initiative to get a redistricting reform measure on the ballot last November?
A: The citizens’ initiative, led by the Independent Map Amendment coalition, was sued by political bosses after the state Board of Elections gave its approval to move forward. The case ultimately went to the Illinois Supreme Court, which decided on August 25, 2016 to block the initiative from getting on the November ballot. As a result, voters never got the chance to decide the question even though more than 560,000 people across Illinois supported the initiative and more than 70 percent of Illinois citizens supported reform.
Q: Who is leading the fight for redistricting reform in Illinois today?
A: CHANGE Illinois, a coalition of reform-minded organizations across Illinois, currently is leading the redistricting reform movement in Illinois and continuing on much of the public education and legislative outreach done by the 2016 Independent Map Amendment campaign.
Q: What is CHANGE Illinois doing to achieve redistricting reform in Illinois?
A: CHANGE Illinois is raising funds, engaging lawmakers, organizing supporters, and continuing to educate stakeholders about the need for redistricting reform. In the coming weeks, CHANGE Illinois will lay out its plan to achieve meaningful redistricting reform in Illinois. In the meantime, sign up for our regular email updates and please follow CHANGE Illinois on Facebook and Twitter to stay informed on how to advance redistricting reform in Illinois.
Q: What is Gill v. Whitford and how is it relevant to Illinois?
A: Gill v. Whitford is a recent court ruling in Wisconsin where a federal panel of judges struck down the legislative maps on the basis that they were a product of partisan gerrymandering. This was the first ruling of its kind 30 years. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2017 and a decision will come out in the Spring of 2018. If the high court affirms the Wisconsin federal court’s ruling, legislative maps that are designed on a partisan basis could be challenged and overturned throughout the nation. For more information about Whitford v. Gill, click here.
Q: Is there any hope for achieving redistricting reform in Illinois?
A: Yes, but only if pressure remains on politicians from people across the state en masse. The best asset the redistricting reform movement in Illinois has is size. More than 500,000 people across the state supported redistricting reform and polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Illinoisans support reform. Politicians cannot ignore reform people across the state tell that it’s their priority.
Q: What can I do to help advance redistricting reform in Illinois?
A: There are a few important things you can do:
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for breaking news and timely updates about how to advance reform in Illinois.
- Sign-up for news, updates, and opportunities to make your voice heard here. We will keep you informed of legislative efforts, court developments, and other events. In addition to this, we will let you know when politicians need to hear from the people so that they do the right thing.
- Contact your elected officials and ask them where they stand on redistricting reform!