State Senate begins redistricting discussion
From press release
SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Last week, the Senate Committee on Redistricting convened its first hearing in Chicago to receive testimony from witnesses on Illinois’ redistricting process, and the state’s history of gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts. State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said lawmakers heard testimony from a panel of experts who provided background on the federal census process and a historical perspective of redistricting in Illinois.
Notably, former State Senator and former Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch provided information about the 1970 Constitutional Convention, where the current system of drawing legislative districts was established. A 1970 Constitutional Convention delegate, Netsch explained the “coin flip” process used to select the tie-breaking member of the legislative redistricting commission was intended to force compromise among legislative leaders, and noted the convention delegates never expected the tie-breaker to be used.
Though delegates did not expect legislative leaders to allow their livelihood to come down to a coin flip, Netsch said the drafters misunderstood the political backbone and gambling nature of politicians. She also indicated it was her belief Illinois’ redistricting system is “broken” and that there is a need for reform, recommending Illinois devise a fair process that allows independent input, provides equality and produces a fair map that will restore voter confidence in their state leaders.
Professor Paul Green of Roosevelt University expressed similar criticisms of the current process used to draw legislative district maps in Illinois, saying the process is “tarnished,” and noting a tarnished process cannot produce an untarnished product. Similarly, when asked to rank how well Illinois draws its maps, Green gave Illinois a “four or five” out of a scale of one to 10. The professor, like many other legislative experts, agreed Illinois must do a better job of removing politics from the redistricting process.
Sen. Syverson said there have been several measures advanced that would make much-needed changes to Illinois’ redistricting process. Despite differences between the plans, most, if not all, proposals call for an autonomous, non-political entity to draw the district boundaries using computer technology to remove politics from the process. Numerous states—including Arizona, Hawaii and New Jersey—have independent, non-partisan commissions determine the new borders. Illinois, however, is among the states that give politicians the power to redraw the map.
Syverson and other critics charge the current system allows partisan considerations to come into play when districts are drawn. Sen. Syverson pointed to one state legislative district, which is 110 miles long—running from the Metropolitan St. Louis area to central Illinois—and only 8 miles wide at its narrowest.
“Two men from Chicago should not be the ones who decide who represents the citizens of Winnebago County,” Syverson said. “The local voters should be the ones who decide who should represent them.”
The Committee is expected to continue meeting in several other Illinois communities, including Peoria Aug. 19, Carbondale Sept. 16 and Springfield Oct. 14.
Print This Article