Gerrymandering in Illinois not what many think: BGA

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor

Gerrymandering may be in play in Illinois, but it’s not deciding the result of many elections. That’s the analysis of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan non-profit watchdog group.

While a Supreme Court case will likely see the legislative lines in Wisconsin redrawn, the outcome is unlikely to impact Illinois. The case from up north is looking at whether Republicans in the legislature drew lines that overwhelmingly favored the GOP. But applying the same methods of analysis to Illinois produces results that the BGA says should leave Republicans wanting to “hold off on breaking out the champagne.”

“That conclusion flies in the face of the deeply held conviction among many Republicans,” the BGA says, “that mapmaking foul play is the prime reason why powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and fellow Democrats have for years remained firmly in control of both the Illinois House and Senate.”

In short, a tool called the efficiency gap – a method to determine vote distribution developed by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California – shows that while legislative maps in Illinois may be rigged, they merely keep incumbents in power and do not ensure that Democrats keep a stranglehold on the statehouse.

From the BGA:

“Designed to determine whether gerrymandering has enabled one political party to unduly extend its power, the formula compares the difference in so-called wasted votes—either those cast for a losing candidate or those cast for the victor in excess of what was needed to win. The election favors the party with fewer wasted votes, Stephanopoulos and McGhee wrote.

“Because each legislative district represents roughly the same number of voters, the calculation can be simplified: The efficiency gap is the difference between the share of seats a party actually wins and the share it should be projected to win based on the average district vote in such contests.”

For Illinois, the outcome is clear: vote totals correspond to representation in Springfield, something that cannot be said about Wisconsin, where Republicans have routinely outgained their vote totals. In 2012, the first election after the Wisconson GOP redrew maps, the party gained around 18 seats due to redistricting. While only 45 percent of Wisconsin voters chose a GOP candidate in 2012, Republicans attained a 60-to-38 advantage in the legislature.

In Illinois, Republicans have regularly met or exceeded their expected results, albeit by more modest numbers. Stephanopoulos and McGhee propose an 8-point gap in their 100-point system to be the point of scrutiny. In Illinois, the GOP hasn’t strayed more than 3 points from their expected outcomes in the past three elections, and the party exceeded its expected haul in the 2016 election.

And while the outcome of the Supreme Court decision can’t be known, it’s unlikely to have an effect on the way Illinois’ maps are drawn, say experts. “You’re not going to change the demographic and political culture of Illinois just by changing the lines,” David Yepsen, the former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, told the BGA. That’s bad news for Republicans hoping to overcome the ever-expanding Chicago metro area. Again, per the BGA:

“The disadvantage to Illinois Republicans is that the vast majority of Downstate counties are losing population while Chicago and its environs become a ‘super urban metro area,’ said Charles Franklin, a professor of law and public policy at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.

“‘It’s hard to design districts that break into that urban bloc, that shatter that large population,’ Franklin said.”

That means that no matter the outcome of the Wisconsin case, it will likely leave Republicans in Illinois left wanting for a more favorable map. “What redistricting has clearly done in Illinois,” the BGA concludes, “is preserve the careers of incumbents of both parties.” R.

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