Editorial: Fight for fair election maps may be delayed but remains alive
With the release of U.S. Census data last week, a new front has opened in the fight for fairness in drawing political boundaries.
Illinois' Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly already determined earlier this year that partisanship should trump fairness in the creation of state legislative and Supreme Court districts, and barring intervention from the courts -- where we could see a first test as early as next week -, there seems little that Illinoisans who care about good government can do about it.
Realistically, there may not be a whole lot anyone can do, either, about the map that will be drawn to define the state's new congressional boundaries. Citing a June 30 state constitutional deadline, lawmakers approved legislative and Supreme Court maps in the spring without complete and accurate Census data, but they withheld approval of a congressional map to avoid possible rejection by federal courts if they failed to use the official Census count to assure the U.S. Constitution's requirement of assuring one person, one vote.
That is not to say that fairness will have its day in the sun now. Partisanship will remain the predominant factor. Democrats continue to control the process, and with the state losing a district because of the decline in population, their biggest dilemma seems to be whether they should push their current 13-5 advantage over Republicans in Illinois congressional seats to 14-3 by squeezing out incumbent 16th District Republican Adam Kinzinger or, possibly seeing the outspoken Trump critic as a bulwark against extremism within the GOP, by finding some other districts to reshape and still provide the chance for long-term Democratic dominance of federal politics in the state.
We and other Illinoisans have been railing against this process for years but have not been able to disrupt the ruthless political calculus that keeps it in place. Nor, it is important to remember, have good-government types in any of the more numerous Republican-controlled states whose legislatures are now rubbing their hands and drooling over the opportunities to solidify GOP dominance of their congressional delegations.
It is a depressing, anti-democratic endeavor wherever it takes place, and it seems that nothing short of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution could shift the dynamic from politics to government. But, as University of Illinois professor Sheldon H. Jacobson argued in a Daily Herald op-ed on Monday, there are alternatives.
They can be seen at the website for The Institute for Computational Redistricting, http://redistricting.cs.illinois.edu. Under the direction of Jacobson and his associate Douglas M. King, the institute has produced as many as 15 different congressional maps for Illinois based on four separate plans, each built on its own approach to fairness. While some of the maps do favor one party or the other, every one of them features less potential for selfish interference than Illinois' current system.
And together, they reinforce the notion that the fight to end unfair gerrymandering is not over. Indeed, in many ways, it could just be beginning a long climb toward better elections in 2030. It may be extreme to entrust those elections entirely to a system using solely computers and algorithms, but the institute's work does offer intriguing insights into what could be done under a nonpartisan commission aided by well-moderated technology.
At what is otherwise a depressing time for those of us who long for a more vibrant democracy, it is reassuring to observe that even in the shadow of abject partisanship, methods are being tested that could create, in the words of the institute, "a transparent environment under which district maps can be discussed, debated, and evaluated."
Sadly, we will not have that environment in 2021. But we can begin working toward installing it in 2030.