Politicians in Springfield should not get to decide how much weight your vote carries. But they do, so if you want a better version of democracy you need to tell Illinois state politicians to get behind the Fair Maps Amendment. And they need to do it by a May 4 deadline so you can vote on it in November.
The urgency is because the Nov. 6 election is the last chance we'll have to end gerrymandering in Illinois before the 2020 U.S. Census. That population count will set the Illinois state legislative and congressional district map-making process in motion.
If lawmakers pass House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 43, or the companion bill in the Illinois Senate, SJRCA 26, then voters will decide whether to change the Illinois Constitution so that an independent commission draws congressional and state legislative districts. The commission will be charged with keeping districts compact and communities together as much as possible, while working to keep minority voting rights intact.
If lawmakers fail to pass either bill, then we lock in gerrymandering for another decade. Politicians will again draw maps that look like earmuffs, in the case of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez' Illinois Fourth Congressional District, or look like an amphibian doing yoga, as is the case for state Rep. LaToya Greenwood's 114th Illinois House District.
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As President Obama noted, politicians will continue picking voters, instead of the other way around.
The harm is that Greenwood's district treats voters in conservative, rural communities with farming roots, such as Lebanon and Smithton, the same as minority Democratic voters in the decaying industrial corridor surrounding East St. Louis.
The harm is that U.S. Rep. John Shimkus wastes time trying to travel to constituents spread from Paxton to Paducah, and from Lawrenceville to Collinsville, rather than spending more time listening to his neighbors.
The harm is that Collinsville voters get split between three different congressmen. Voters along a mile stretch of Illinois 159 in Collinsville share a lot of interests, but must convince three different men to support one common cause.
The harm is that more than 60 percent of Illinois' legislative races in 2016 were uncontested because challengers felt little reason to fight for a district politically weighted against them.
The issue was summed up last week by David Kohn, whose Union League Club of Chicago was instrumental in driving the current Illinois Constitution.
"At the root of our democratic system of governance is the principle that government derives its authority from and should be responsive to the will of the people," Kohn said. "That principle is damaged when legislative districts are drawn to protect incumbents, diminishing the voices of voters and discouraging candidates."
None of the local state representatives or state senators have signed on to the Fair Map Amendment. Tell them that before May 4, they should speak up for democracy and strengthen your voice in your government.