Our exhaustive work creating the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission in 2021 and its creation of The People’s Map carried over into 2022 as Chicago City Council members could not reach agreement on a ward map. That was due, in no small part, to our efforts to work with council members to try to have key concepts of The People’s Map incorporated into the city’s next ward map. Our commission and its work product influenced debate in City Hall for months. We kept communication open with various council factions and came within days of the May deadline to win the opportunity for Chicagoans to get the chance to choose their preferred ward map for only the second time in the city’s history. In the end, city council members cut deals for themselves and ultimately voted for a backroom ward map, but we absolutely achieved some significant wins and changed the narrative of ward mapping.
Our commission was the first to draw an Asian majority ward around Chinatown, something that ultimately was included in the city’s official map. We believe the transparent, public process our commission engaged in in seeking community input and drawing a map, pressured council members to hold more hearings than they had planned. Mayor Lori Lightfoot was so bothered that we held her accountable for backing away from her redistricting reform commitments that she told reporters from Washington, D.C. that we were criticizing from “the cheap seats.” Even as they approved a corrupt map in May, several council members talked about our commission’s work from the council floor and the need to change the process moving forward.
We continued throughout 2022, and will continue to work tenaciously to hold them to it. To date, we’ve succeeded in ensuring there is no effort in Springfield to lower the number of votes it takes to approve a ward map, despite several public claims from the Mayor’s floor leader that she would push to make passing a map easier. We have legislation drafted to create a resident remapping commission for Chicago and will be continuing to work to find sponsors for the proposal. This year, we drafted a questionnaire we aim to send to the 11 candidates for mayor and the 210 aldermanic candidates asking them to go public with their views on a community-led, independent redistricting process for the city before the February election. To date, nine other community organizations are joining us in the questionnaire project we’re leading.
After assisting community groups and testifying about closed-door redistricting of our state and congressional districts last year, this year we worked to find an independent and respected political scientist to conduct a survey and evaluation of the redistricting reform landscape in Illinois. We anticipate receiving that report late next spring.
During 2022, we worked to change the redistricting narrative away from one of a political power struggle between the major parties or factions to educating people about how gerrymandering suppresses votes and hurts real people in real ways. We repeatedly drive home that whether you most care about gun violence, or school quality, or abortion, or access to healthy food, you also need to care about ending gerrymandering.
Our efforts have won us converts. Some of our volunteer Chicago commissioners, for example, continue their service and engagement with us and are lifelong advocates in their communities for why maps matter.
The Illinois Redistricting Collaborative we lead is a cornerstone of our efforts to build a wider and deeper statewide network. We envision an organizing network of trained volunteers who can speak passionately and personally on the harms of gerrymandering. We began this year to recruit community members who can harness the movement and help pressure elected officials to approve redistricting and other ethics reforms in the future.
We began building this network in 2022 by launching a statewide “Improving Illinois” town hall series. We use the series to reach new people and tell them about the crass gerrymandering that just occurred. This year, we held town halls in-person, virtually and in hybrid formats in Peoria, Rockford, Des Plaines, Aurora, and multiple locations on the South Side of Chicago. More than 130 people attended the town halls this fall and we expect to continue the meetings next year.
Additionally, we worked this year to educate people about the temporary date change for the primary election in June and about voting in new districts in November. We solicited feedback after both elections, asking voters about any obstacles they encountered in voting and how the decennial redistricting affected the contests and candidates on their ballot.
2022 also found us digging into the important work of ensuring the end to prison gerrymandering is implemented successfully. We led the coalition of groups that successfully ended prison gerrymandering in Illinois through the legislature. Now, we are building awareness about why this matters. We’ve had discussions with officials from Illinois Department of Corrections and Illinois State Board of Elections to begin to understand the challenges and barriers to successful implementation. We continue to pursue multiple strategies to ensure quality data on the last-known addresses of those who are incarcerated are available when the law takes effect in 2025 for the 2030 Census.
It’s been a tough and exhausting year to be sure, but we don’t give up. The team at CHANGE Illinois is dogged and determined. We’re still fighting, strategizing and enlisting new people to build pressure on our elected officials to bring fresh change to Illinois’ governments and elections.