March 07, 2021

Guest column: The need for Illinois to map its way to ‘fair’

Behind closed doors, something very important is happening in our democracy. I would suspect that aside from people who follow redistricting, many are unaware of both the process and outcome of redistricting. I do think everyone would argue for a “fair” process.

The United States Constitution says very little about redistricting, except for some limited references in Article 1, Section 2. In the third paragraph of this Section, a process for enumerating the population of the states to determine the number of seats that each state would have in Congress is described this way: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers.” Basically, this describes the census process that takes place every 10 years, and why states take census gathering so seriously.

The details surrounding redistricting have been the subject of discussion and debate for years. Several United States Supreme Court cases have determined that each state should handle redistricting and legislative maps that are therefore drawn differently in various states.

In Illinois, legislative redistricting is the subject of Section 3, Article 4 of our state Constitution. The Illinois Constitution states that “(a) Legislative Districts shall be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population. Representative Districts shall be compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population. (b) In the year following each Federal decennial census year, the General Assembly by law shall redistrict the Legislative Districts and the Representative Districts.”

The General Assembly is constitutionally responsible for drawing our new legislative maps every 10 years, aligning with the census. This is true in most states. Legislation is approved by a majority vote in each Chamber and then signed into law, or vetoed, by the governor. Some states like Florida Maryland, Mississippi and North Carolina do not allow for the governor to veto the new maps. Some states do use other processes like political or even independent commissions. Connecticut and Maine require a two-thirds majority after a map is drawn by a commission.

According to the Illinois Constitution, if Illinois does not have a map passed by the legislature and signed by the governor by June 30, then a Legislative Redistricting Commission is to be named by July 10 and that commission has until Aug. 10 to agree on a map. The commission is made up of eight individuals appointed by the four caucus leaders. Half of the appointees of this commission are to be non-members of the General Assembly and half are representatives and senators. Eventually, if there is not an agreement, the Illinois Supreme Court gets involved.

Right now, with a supermajority of Democrats in the Illinois Senate, plus a supermajority in the Illinois House and a Democrat governor in Illinois, it is highly unlikely that a commission will be needed. That does not mean that the map should not follow constitutional requirements of being compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population. If not, the proposal could still be taken to court.

The real question is whether the current system as described in the Illinois Constitution results in a fair map. When one party controls the entire process, there will ultimately be questions about the map being “fair.” New Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch probably captured the essence very well when he recently said that he was indeed in favor of “fair maps.” He then quickly added that his definition of a “fair map” might be different than yours.

I was introduced to the concept of map drawing in a real way in 2001 when I ran for state representative in a newly drawn map. The 109th legislative district included all or parts of eight counties in east-central Illinois. The counties included all of Crawford, Clark, Cumberland and Lawrence, most of Edgar County, plus portions of Effingham, Wabash and Shelby. Only four of the counties were completely within the legislative district. It is understandable that when attempting to draw a map that, except for highly populated counties, it might be necessary to split counties. However, several towns were split, including Effingham, Shelbyville and Mount Carmel. In Mount Carmel the map split the east and west sides of Cherry Street. This was not “fair” to the people, as many were confused as to who represented them.

No matter your definition of “fair,” surely we can do better. Many believe that the only way to address this issue is to amend the state Constitution and require a process that would not allow for the legislature alone to determine who gets to vote for them. Count me among those people.

Getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot is very difficult, unless those in the majority agree to place an amendment on the ballot in much the same way the “fair tax” amendment was presented. Yes indeed, fair is fair.

Roger Eddy is a retired member of the Illinois House and served on the Special Investigative Committee on the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich. He served the 109th District as a Republican from 2003 to 2012. Recently, he authored a book highlighting the impeachment of Blagojevich. The book, “A Front Row Seat - The Impeachment of Rod Blagojevich,” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.