By John S. Jackson, visiting professor, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute
The following is an outline of the testimony Dr. Jackson submitted to the Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee’s meeting on April 21, 2011 in Carbondale, Ill.
I want to offer comments that are a mixture of the theoretical and the practical. I will offer a bit about what the federal and state constitutions require and what the standard textbooks say about redistricting. At the same time I want to acknowledge that practical politics is always a driving force in these decisions. I will close by advocating that in the future, getting ready for the next round in 2020, the state should adopt a constitutional amendment which changes the way this process is done.
The Illinois Constitution provides that, “Legislative Districts shall be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.” This means the districts must follow the familiar rule of “one person one vote” and the districts must be contiguous. In the 2001 map, many districts were not compact by any reasonable definition and that value was sacrificed for other – mostly political – considerations. (For example, see the 4th, 15th, 17th and 19th Congressional Districts).
The General Assembly is given until June 30th to complete and adopt a plan. If they cannot agree on a plan by that date an eight member Redistricting Commission is appointed. That commission is comprised of four persons from the Democratic Party and four from the Republican Party nominated by the legislative leaders in both chambers. If that Commission can’t produce a plan by August 10th, the “tie breaker” is randomly chosen by pulling one of two names out of a hat. That unique tie-breaker rule is the only one of its kind in the nation. Three of the past four cycles have produced the need for the tie-breaker. The luck of the draw has led to the Democrats winning and drawing the map twice and the Republicans once.
In addition, the U. S. Constitution and a host of court decisions must be followed in drawing the map. The most notable of these is that the Voting Rights Act must be followed. That will result in a number of “majority-minority” districts which guarantee that some districts will almost certainly produce African-American and less often, Hispanic, members of the General Assembly and Congress.
As for the textbooks, I will rely on Congressional Redistricting by David Butler and Bruce Cain, which holds that there are “Considerations Involving Form,” which should be adhered: equal numbers, following natural frontiers, and compactness and contiguity. Those are important values and not always easy to achieve. The Butler and Crain book also recommends “Considerations Involving Outcome” which include: “party fairness,” “ethnic fairness,” and “party competition.”
The ethnic fairness criteria must be followed when it comes to the “majority-minority” districts for African-Americans and Hispanics; however, there are other ethnic groups clamoring to be heard, e.g. the Chinese in and around Chinatown in Chicago. Just how many Hispanic Districts might be created also remains to be seen.
A recent report from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights featured in the April 11 edition of Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax noted the Latino population increased 32.5% overall and increased by big numbers in the top ten Senate and House Districts where most settled since 2000. The new data shows Latinos now make up 15.8 percent of the state’s total population; however, they only make up 6.8 percent of the state legislature. They only have one of the state’s congressional seats currently.
I want to concentrate on the “party fairness” and “party competition” variables. I think we should start the conversation with the premise that party interests and incumbent interests will be served. We all know that to be the case. The U. S. Supreme Court has also recognized that fact in the 2004 case of Vieth v. Jubelirer. There the court majority said that party could be a factor in the redistricting process and they were not going to try to outlaw it. If you accept party considerations, than you also get incumbent protection considerations as a part of the bargain.
The question then becomes how to define the party fairness and party competition criteria. It also becomes whether you take these two variables as the sole drivers of the process and in effect as the only thing that really counts after the constitutional requirements are met.
There is a political science concept which is relevant here – the “Votes to Seats” ratio. That is, there should be some fairly direct relationship between the total votes for one party in the state and the seats won in the legislative body. If they are wildly out of balance because of the power of one party or the other, you have a pretty clear case of a partisan gerrymander.
The problem with that votes to seats concept, of course, is which votes in which elections to count in establishing the standard. We used to have in Illinois the trusty measure of the votes cast in the University of Illinois Board of Trustees races as a standard of party strength in the state, but that measure was lost with the advent of an appointed board.
I think it is clear that Illinois is a competitive state overall , but one which “leans Democratic” by most objective measures. That has been the case since the Democrats took charge of state government in 2002. From 2002 through 2008, Illinois was one of the “bluest of the blue states” as political scientist Paul Green once said.
But now there are the 2010 election results to consider. That is why I stress that Illinois is basically a competitive state but still “leans blue.” For example, the Democrats and the Republicans split the results for the top two offices in 2010, i.e. Pat Quinn won the Governor’s race and Mark Kirk won the Senate office, both in close elections.
The top five constitutional officers produced similarly divided results. The Democrats won three and the Republicans won two of those. The Democrats retained control of both the House and the Senate, but their margin was narrower after the 2010 elections.
So, here are my overall strategic recommendations: First, the map makers should start out with some fairly clear expectations that party and incumbent interests will be regarded and respected. Why should anyone pretend otherwise? This means that there will be a number of predictable and safe seats drawn to take care of the interests of both sides. The important question here is how many of these safe seats there will be.
Second, then, and here is the harder part, they should create a substantial number of “marginal” or competitive seats where either party has a clear shot at winning. In the marginal seats you create the places where public opinion and the tides of current events can have an impact in each election. These also ought to be a mixture of Downstate, Suburban, and Central City-Suburban combined districts.
Elections ought to count for something and have an immediate impact on the composition of the legislative body and on the making of public policy. If you create a number of marginal seats, they can. Otherwise, the legislators are simply selecting their people rather than the people selecting their legislators when you have too many safe seats drawn at the outset.
Finally, after this round is over, we really should have a spirited public debate and an educational exercise over ways to do this differently and better in 2020. At the very minimum, we ought to get rid of the constitutionally mandated “tie breaker” mechanism.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute offered and advocated for a new plan for 2010; however, it was not adopted. Other groups offered other plans also not adopted. The provision of the tie-breaker being by a “Special Master” appointed by the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the ranking minority party member of the court was central to our plan. There are lots of other interesting state plans, some of them new, e.g. from California and Florida, which could serve as models. We really ought to study the experience of those other states and see what we can learn and apply in Illinois. I hope we do not wait until 2018 or 2019 to have that debate again, and the PSPPI will do what we can to help lead that discourse starting in 2012.
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