Keystone of fair maps

Keystone of fair maps

Pennsylvania could prove to be the model for how states should cure themselves of gerrymandering.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently distinguished itself as the first high court in the nation to strike down legislative districts because they are so partisan that they violate the state's constitution.

Since a state supreme court has the last word on the meaning of its state constitution, it means the case is over. There is no prospect of U.S. Supreme Court review because it has no legal jurisdiction.

Legal observers will disagree about the propriety of the Pennsylvania court's 4-3 decision.

Opponents of the gerrymandering process — the means by which partisan politicians draw state and federal legislative districts to benefit themselves and manipulate the election process — will, no doubt, applaud.

Those who feel that map-drawing is inherently a political process that is best addressed by the political branches of government will disagree. They will suggest that the Pennsylvania court overstepped its bounds by intruding into a question best left to voters and their state elected officials.

But in one respect, the Pennsylvania court's action deserves unanimous applause — it clearly set forth legal standards that will guide elected officials as to what they can and cannot do when they draw legislative maps.

Indeed, the directions not only are clear, but make perfect sense if the map-drawers' goal is to draw a fair map and let the chips fall where they may.

The Pennsylvania court ordered that the new congressional maps meet the following conditions.

They must be:

— Composed of "compact and contiguous territory."

— As nearly equal in population as "practicable."

— Drawn in a way that does "not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population."

That, in a nutshell, is what the drawing of district boundary lines should be all about. But things change when majority parties who establish legislative boundary lines decide to manipulate the process.

Who knows what bizarre configurations will result when politicians, using computers and voter history, draw boundary lines in a way that gives one party or the other a distinct advantage?

In the Pennsylvania case, Republicans who drew the congressional map produced districts with contorted images, including one that was famously described as "Goofy kicking Donald Duck."

When Illinois Democrats drew the 4th Congressional District to guarantee U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez re-election, they needed to include as many Hispanics as they could find. They succeeded in giving Gutierrez a safe district, but its appearance is shaped like a pair of earmuffs.

Honest map-drawing would eliminate that kind of trickery, principally through the requirement that districts be draw as compact and contiguous as possible and not violate political boundary lines, like cities or counties.

Though it has a long history in this country, gerrymandering by both political parties is a dirty business that puts the politicians' interests in winning elections, presumably without serious competition, ahead of the public's interest in having meaningful choices on Election Day.

Illinois, of course, is Exhibit A for the damage done by one-party legislative rule for an extended period of time. Without meaningful competition, those in charge can make terrible decisions without any fear of political repercussions.

If the day ever comes in this state when the legislative district-drawing process is done in a manner that serves the public's welfare, it should follow rules similar to those outlined by Pennsylvania's court.

Of course, one never knows what the future holds with respect to the complications of the redistricting process. But the public will learn more about the Pennsylvania experiment quite soon.

The Pennsylvania court set a Feb. 9 deadline for the state's governor and legislature to draw new maps. If they fail to follow the court's rules, the justices said they will draw the maps themselves.

Finally, the new maps will be in place for this year's congressional races. This court-ordered experiment in good government will be well worth watching.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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DEB wrote on January 29, 2018 at 2:01 pm

The NG conveniently forgets that in Illinois the party that controls redistricting is the one that wins a coin toss (OK, drawn from an imiation Lincoln-like hat). They applaud redistricting when Republicans control it; say it is horrible and undemocratic when controlled by the Democratic Party. 

Yes, Illinois could benefit greatly from non-partisan citizen commission drawing districts that resemble the state. Better yet, go to at large voting for Congress, State Senate, and State Legislature. Each person gets one vote (so as to eliminate the possibility of Chicago controlling everything), and the top 59 become State Senators in a senate vote, the top 118 go to the State House, and the top 18 (probably 17 after the next census) go to the US House (hopefully it is obvious that we would have separate elections for each office).

As an aside, if we actually wanted fair elections that allowed Libertarians, Greens, and other parties a chance, we would use the Single Transferrable Vote or Ranking system, which eliminates the problem of "wasted votes" and allows citizens to use the vote to express their dissatisfaction of the views of both/either "major" party, but I suspect that is too much to ask. Whenever this has been proposed in the US it is dismissed as being "too confusing" for Americans (even though it is the method used in an increasing number of of other countries, municipalities, and states. But perhaps I overestimate the intelligence of Americans. Perhaps we cannot cope with (so called) complicated things like the rest of the world. But I grew up in the 50's and I still think Americans are as smart and able-- actually more smart and more able-- than the citizens of other nations, whether democracies or not. But perhaps I am old and America is no longer smart, educated, and able. But I hope this is not true.

This is more an exposure of the fact that the radical right focus of the News-Gazette editorialists and (so called) journalists only endorse the positions of the radical right and libertarians, not their readers, the needs and views of the people of Champaign and (even) Urbana (whose paper they ran out of business).

That said, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a great decision. Could we expect something similar from the Illinois Supreme Court, absolutely not. It is the only one of the Illinois State institutions currently controlled by Republicans. We sould count our blessings that they are not controlled by the KKK/Nazi right that controls the national Republican Party, but it still favors big business over small, whites over non-whites, men above women, straight over all  others, unearned income over earned (i.e., those who sit by the pool waiting for the check to arrive over those who work for a living), and (perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY,) those with money over the rest of us (remember, the Chicago based Chinigo never worked a day in her life).