Pressure state lawmakers for change in political boundary maps

By Kimberly Brisky and Jeff Raines
Guest columnists
Posted4/24/2018 1:00 AM
  • Kimberly Brisky

    Kimberly Brisky

  • Jeff Raines

    Jeff Raines

Did you know you may not have the same elected officials as your neighbor across the street? Or even your neighbor next door? This is all too commonplace in Illinois, where politicians have the power to pick their own districts, down to a street or even a house.

On the federal level, three congressional districts converge at Lake-Cook Road and Wilke Road, with another district boundary just two miles south. The representatives range across the political spectrum from Republican Congressman Peter Roskam to Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

The state-representative map looks even more like a jigsaw puzzle. The village of Northbrook has three different state representatives. And on a four-mile stretch on Belvidere Road, you drive through the districts of five different state representatives. Clearly districts have to start and stop somewhere, but how do legislative maps become so disconnected from the natural boundaries that already exist?

Federal and state legislative maps in Illinois are drawn every 10 years in response to new census data. The process is driven by the legislators themselves. And if there is a stalemate due to divided government, which has been the case three of the last four times, the maps are decided by pulling a name out of a hat.

Politicians in Illinois, and around the country, produce these gerrymandered maps to protect incumbents, punish party disloyalty and ultimately, keep themselves in power. They split up counties, cities and towns, even neighborhoods and street blocks to rig the maps in their favor. Both Republicans and Democrats have used these tactics and produced maps that work to the majority party's advantage -- leaving many voters without a voice.

We've seen what's happened to our state as a result of gerrymandering: fewer competitive elections, common sense and compromise are thrown out in favor of ideological fervor, budgets aren't passed and jobs leave the state. The plans of small business owners and entrepreneurs to start and expand falter, while frustration and distrust of our government grows.

But there is another way.

As part of the nonpartisan Illinois Redistricting Collaborative, we support replacing the current system with an independent commission that would stop politicians from picking their own voters. This solution has helped blue states like California and red states like Arizona fix their maps to make their government more representative of the residents who choose to live there.

We can bring this same solution to Illinois.

Instead of keeping politicians in charge of the maps, fundamentally reforming the redistricting process in this way will strengthen our communities, foster a more robust democracy, and put us on a path to restoring public trust in government.

These shouldn't be considered lofty goals, they're the very standards voters in Illinois deserve.

The time is now to ask your legislators in the General Assembly to co-sponsor the bipartisan Fair Maps Amendment (HJRCA43/SJRCA26) to establish an independent commission to take over the mapping process. We can't let another round of redistricting go by without these reforms.

Kimberly Brisky is director of communications & public affairs for the Small Business Advocacy Council. Jeff Raines is communications and engagement director for CHANGE Illinois.

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