When viewing what Springfield politicians are offering as a congressional redistricting plan, it’s worthwhile recalling what we could have had.
First off, let’s acknowledge that legislative redistricting — as it works in Illinois — is a political process. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the county, state or federal level, redrawing legislative district boundaries is and always has been a political process. Part of the reason is that it is the politicians themselves who are those most interested in the makeup of district boundaries.
In Illinois, the district boundaries are fashioned for the politicians, not for the voters. That’s why you get proposed boundaries like the 15th Congressional District that begins in northern Illinois about 20 miles from the Wisconsin border and slithers through the center of the state to south of Terre Haute and almost to Vincennes, Ind.
That district boundary, which was drawn by Democrats with input from no one else, includes a litany of disconnected, dissimilar communities: Litchfield, Effingham, Danville, Paxton, Pontiac, Kewanee, Dixon, Oregon and Freeport. It’s more than 330 miles by car from Scioto Mills to Oil Grove, both of which are in the proposed 15th District.
That’s not a bad district for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who is the only current congressional representative who lives in the proposed 15th. The district is considered about 66 percent Republican, which would make his biennial re-election efforts less demanding than the 52-percent Republican district he has today. And it would give him the opportunity to broaden his name in more parts of Illinois for a future statewide candidacy.
But how does it help the voters of that enormous district if they want to drive to their congressman’s office, if they want their congressman to visit them or if they want to bond with residents of nearby communities who have similar interests?
For example, residents of the area between Champaign-Urbana and Danville — about 35 miles — would be in three different congressional districts with three different members of Congress. The area’s congressional representation would be diffused among three different individuals who represent well over half the land mass of all of Illinois.
The proposed map — which for now is only a scheme, one that is likely to be revised over the next week and possibly worsened before being approved by legislators and the governor — does not serve the best interests of the people of Illinois, although it does serve the politicians.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a group of independent Princeton University scholars who hope to eliminate partisan gerrymandering nationally, gave the proposed Illinois map an F, particularly for its geographic features and partisan fairness. That’s the same grade given to Texas’ notoriously partisan (favoring Republicans) redistricting maps.
Contrast that circumstance with what might have been if Illinois voters had been allowed to vote on a constitutional amendment to enact independent redistricting in the state, a process that would have given more power to voters and less to politicians in drawing district boundaries.
The Illinois Supreme Court, in a partisan decision, took that power from the voters after more than 550,000 of them had signed a petition to get the amendment on the ballot.
It’s worthwhile remembering that it’s this kind of a politicians-first, voters-last map that made the idea of an independent redistricting commission so appealing to so many Illinoisans.
Illinois residents who long for a fair, nonpartisan redistricting process can look to Arizona, where that state’s independent commission recently released a revised congressional map that got an overall grade of A, including A for partisan fairness and C for geography.
It can be done here. It’s just going to take a longer, stronger effort to allow the wishes of the people to overturn the wishes of the pols.