Editorial: Time for Pritzker, Democrats to follow fair-map vow

Illinois Democrats hold all the cards when it comes to the crucial task of drawing the representative districts for the coming decade.

The question is how they will play them.

Will they make the textbook move, following the pattern of parties in power across many decades and many states? The result would be gerrymandered districts that protect incumbents and consolidate the power of party leaders.

Or will they take their campaign statements seriously and heed the imperative for elected officials to act differently this time?

We hope and argue for the latter. Never has the need to push back from hyper-partisanship and do what's best for residents of this state been more apparent.

Assuming Democrats keep hold of the statehouse as they have since 2003, the standard remapping process would begin in 2021 after the next U.S. census with the legislature agreeing on and approving boundaries for congressional and legislative districts (and making sure that any congressional seats lost because of population declines are Republican). Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker then would sign on, avoiding involving a special commission that would step in if no consensus could be reached.

Voters have other ideas. More than 563,000 of them signed petitions to put a question on a 2016 ballot for a constitutional amendment to have an 11-member board devise maps. It failed in the state Supreme Court that split sharply along party lines.

This year, scores of lawmakers signed on as sponsors to put a fair-map amendment on the ballot, but it never got called by legislative leaders for a vote. Pritzker has vowed to veto any gerrymandered maps. He needs to go further by championing a new process for drafting maps in the first place. Since we're back at Square One, let's create a process to leave map-drawing to a commission that's independent of politicians and lobbyists, rather than simply bipartisan.

Illinois is different from most gerrymandered states that favor Republicans. So if you're an Illinois Democrat, you might think foot dragging is fine. But the current way of drawing maps not only protects the party, it protects incumbents, stifles competition, consolidates power for legislative leaders and presents huge hurdles for candidates seeking to challenge the status quo - even among Democrats.

A map drawn fairly puts decisions on representation in the hands of voters, where they belong. The current winner-take-all approach gains the party an advantage in the short run, but ultimately breeds cynicism and quashes new voices.

There's a risk in taking the high road and playing the game in a new way. We know that, but we hope Pritzker, and Illinois Democrats, do it anyway.

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