GOP Members Introduce Bill To Distance Redistricting Process From Politicians

Jan 5, 2021

Credit Google Maps

Every decade, the year after a Census, state lawmakers are tasked with adopting new legislative maps for Illinois, which can shift the balance of power in certain areas with demographic changes.

House Republicans are proposing a bill that they say could avoid another partisan redistricting cycle, and say they’re holding Gov. JB Pritzker’s feet to the fire, daring him to uphold a campaign promise to veto any new legislative maps design which unfairly benefit one political party over another. 

  

“I think the idea that the legislators get to draw the maps — get to draw the districts that they want is something that the people, I think, are just sick and tired of,” State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said during a news conference Tuesday. “It’s far past time to come up with a better model on how we redistrict and how we draw our boundaries. The data is out there tremendously on how we can come up with good districts.”

Butler is filing his bill this week in hopes that the legislature will consider it in their so-called Lame Duck session beginning Friday. But without Democratic co-sponsors, it’s unlikely to get far.

Though the state’s constitution lays out a June 30 deadline for the legislature to pass new maps, that deadline has been blown for the last five decades since the 1970 constitution was ratified, leaving the district drawing process to an eight-member bipartisan commission.

Party leaders were able to strike a deal when the process advanced to the commission in 1971. But each of the last four redistricting cycles have resulted in stalemate, triggering the addition of a tie-breaking ninth member, chosen by random selection out of two names put forward. As a result of winning the chance contest, Democrats have been in charge of the map-making process for three of the past four redistricting years, dating back to 1981. Republicans were in charge in 1991.

Republicans want to avoid the usual scenario of missing the June 30 deadline, relying on a commission and eventually taking a risk that amounts to a coin flip to determine which party has the upper hand by creating an 11-member commission — made up of both legislators and residents — who would be in charge of the mapmaking process and meet the first deadline. The goal is to reduce the level of influence lawmakers have in drawing new district borders. 

Republican members claim previous map designs were developed in such a manner to divide or pack together constituents into irregular district lines based upon party affiliation. 

“You cannot use as the deciding factor whether someone is registered to be a Republican or a Democrat. We need to be agnostic about those partisan labels as we draw and create these districts,” State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said during a news conference Tuesday. “We the legislature should not be involved in a system that allows us to pick the voters that we choose to represent. There’s nothing fair about that.” 

A citizen-led ballot initiative aimed at overhauling the way Illinois’ legislative maps are drawn garnered more than 600,000 petition signatures in 2016. But the Illinois Supreme Court in a split decision blocked the constitutional amendment from appearing on the ballot, as it did not change the “structure and procedure” of the General Assembly, as prescribed by the state’s constitution. 

Also in 2016, House members overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment, HJRCA 58, that would have overhauled the state’s redistricting process, but the measure ultimately failed in the Senate. 

However, Republicans pointed out that 32 Democrats who supported the measure back then are still serving in the General Assembly and said they should support the new bill. 

“I think that the spirit of bipartisanship can be reignited in Illinois. You have currently at least 19 members of the Democratuic caucus that are interested in a different way forward. Many of them are co-sponsors for previous efforts that we have introduced and that they have introduced,” said Spain. 

The proposal would hold the independent map-making commission to the same June 30 deadline prescribed in the state’s constitution to adopt new map designs. But if the new maps are not approved after that deadline, another commission made up of legislators will be formed to take up the process.