The political war against legislative gerrymandering — defined as the rigging of elections years in advance — isn’t over.
Last week’s refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to oversee the legislative redistricting process came as a disappointment to many people who saw court intervention as the easiest and fastest way to address the gerrymandering problem.
But that doesn’t mean the fight for a depoliticized redistricting process is over in Illinois and any other state that still lets its legislators pick their constituents. While the court was well within its rights to take a legal pass on the question, citizens who desire a bipartisan redistricting process can get the job done themselves.
As Change Illinois stated in its reaction to the high court’s decision, “The ruling closes the door on future cases, but underscores the need for every Illinoisan to join our fight to demand our politicians quit suppressing our votes and our voices by rigging out districts.”
An energized, organized populace can work wonders. Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan is determined to perpetuate the failed and gerrymandered legislative status quo, and no one suggests that taking on his corrupt business-as-usual approach will be easy.
But the only alternative to working for positive change is to accept the prevailing despotism.
If that sounds harsh, it’s because it is harsh. But it’s also true.
The redrawing of state House and Senate and federal congressional district lines occurs every 10 years following the census. In the past, the majority party in the General Assembly, whether Democrats or Republicans, has used that power to manipulate district boundaries to gain political advantage.
In the process, the self-interested map drawers give their political interests top priority, in effect erasing the voters’ interest from the election process. That’s what has happened in Illinois and elsewhere.
One effect is that election winners in most legislative districts are determined well before a vote is cast. A secondary effect is that it’s impossible to attract strong, credible candidates to challenge incumbent legislators. So when voters go to the polls, they can either vote for the incumbent or not vote at all because there’s no competition.
Wonder why state Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat, and state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican, had no credible opposition in the 2018 election? It’s because their district maps were drawn to guarantee a Democrat will be elected in Ammons’ district and a Republican in Rose’s district.
Madigan, who controls the Illinois House, has played an instrumental role in previous efforts to block a proposed anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment from being placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
But if an agitated citizenry can place sufficient pressure on legislators — Democrats and Republicans — they, in turn, can press Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to allow votes in the House and Senate.
While the opposition is strategically located and politically potent, there also are powerful proponents of reform, including new Gov. J.B. Pritzker and new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Both have stated they want a depoliticized redistricting process in Illinois. If they’re sincere, they can be expected to use their bully pulpits to push this issue in the right direction.
The people of Illinois need viable candidate choices when they select their state and federal legislators. For now, they are mostly denied that option. The people of Illinois can either acquiesce in the face of political intransigence or work hard to change it.
The democratic process provides the tools to fight the self-interested insiders. Let’s use them.