One of SIUC’s political arms presented two proposals to state officials Tuesday in an effort to squelch gerrymandering, a district-drawing tactic that has caught fire in Illinois for decades.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute hosted the open Senate Redistricting Committee meeting at the John C. Guyon Auditorium to hear the latest commentary on reform for Illinois’ district mapping process, which former Gov. Jim Edgar once called “the most politically ugly and partisan thing that takes place” in Illinois.
The current redistricting format, which takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census, allows one party to have complete control in drawing the lines around the areas senators and representatives serve.
Minorities end up being misrepresented, said committee chair and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago.
Elected officials also have the power to control which voters they’ll represent and hopefully be re-elected by, said Justin Levitt, counsel for the Brennan Center of Justice and speaker for the institute via videoconference.
“The problem is the conflict of having to draw (your own) districts. The public assumes you’re trying to ‘rig the game,’” Levitt said.
The problem also stems from a misguided decision made by legislators and voters in 1970, according to a report by former institute director Mike Lawrence available at the meeting.
Former delegates fashioned the constitution assuming bipartisan committees would ultimately compromise on district-drawing issues, making a lottery for sole party control a last resort, he said.
“Neither party, they reasoned, would want to play Russian roulette in a matter this vital,” Lawrence wrote.
Yet the plan backfired, with Republicans and Democrats gambling to decide who redraws the districts each time for the last 30 years.
Each party used the lottery as the deciding factor in 1981, 1991 and 2001. The power has simultaneously flip-flopped — from Democrats to Republicans and back.
Each of the institute’s proposals calls for a bipartisan commission of eight, with each party electing four of the members. One proposal links two House districts for every Senate district, while the other sets up a system for each to separately focus on redistricting proposals relevant to their chambers, Lawrence wrote.
Time is ticking, Institute Director David Yepsen stressed. If a proposed amendment doesn’t receive bipartisan support before November 2010, it won’t make it on the ballot, and the current process will remain.
“If we don’t do something now, it goes away for the next 10 years,” he said.
Ruth Moon and Evan Davis contributed to this report.