The best chance Illinoisans have for taking back control of their legislative elections in five years is reaching a critical point, and it's time for the public to step up.
Supporters of the Fair Maps Amendment, which would put an end to traditional partisan gerrymandering, are pushing for a vote in the Illinois Legislature by May, in order to get a question on the November ballot. New legislative maps will be drawn in 2021, after the 2020 census. But without overwhelming public action, without voters telling their legislators, "If you don't support this, I don't support you," there's a real chance the Fair Maps Amendment will be only the latest failure -- despite it being the most promising legislation yet.
Legislators who support the amendment are doing what they can. Democratic state Sen. Julie Morrison, of Deerfield, pushed the Senate version of the bill, SJRCA26, into a hearing next week with the Senate Executive Committee's election law subcommittee. Republican state Rep. Ryan Spain, of Peoria, has filed a petition to force HJRCA43 out of House Rules and into the Election & Campaign Finance Committee. The amendment currently has 16 co-sponsors in the House and nine in the Senate.
No, if it fails it will be because the public didn't use its mighty voice.
There's no question that Illinoisans want their elections to be fair, but even overwhelming polling support won't get this done. It's easy to tell a pollster you support fair legislative maps. It's more important to get out there and do something about it, and that's the measuring stick required now.
There has to be a groundswell of public support -- loud and demanding, relentless and unceasing -- to give Democratic legislators the political cover to buck their leadership on this. Without it, too many of them won't risk their careers to do the right thing.
Why should you care? Because gerrymandering, the act of political leaders drawing legislative districts to consolidate their own power, literally steals your vote out from under you.
It also encourages greater polarization within the parties -- an officeholder whose only fear is a primary challenge will pander to ideological purity over competent legislation.
And gerrymandering frequently divides communities into two or more districts, weakening their overall influence.
The Fair Maps Amendment is the best chance Illinois will have in a long time to curb these ills.
But to get it, we have to stand up and demand it.
It's time to get angry, Illinois, and stay angry until this is done.