Letters to the Editor

A new hope for redistricting reform

Forget the holiday blues. If you live in Illinois, chances are you are suffering from an acute case of the political blues, a bug that has long afflicted our state.

Although it was divisive, the presidential election is not the root cause of Illinois’ political blues; rather, it’s how our state does its business. Our politicians’ “business as usual” behavior is most prolific when it comes to gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating legislative boundaries to protect incumbent politicians and reduce the number of competitive legislative races.

Thankfully for the people of Illinois, a treatment may be at hand to realize fair representation in our elections. In the next several months, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a landmark case concerning partisan gerrymandering from Wisconsin.

While courts have been active in addressing racial gerrymandering, they have been reluctant to address partisan gerrymandering because no one had been able to determine when partisanship in redistricting goes too far. That changed when the legal team representing the plaintiffs in Whitford v. Gill broke new ground by propounding a long sought-after missing link: a standard by which partisan gerrymandering can be measured. The Wisconsin federal court was convinced and ruled on November 21 that Wisconsin’s state assembly districts are unconstitutional, the first such ruling in 30 years. This is incredibly important because a judicially manageable standard is exactly what Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote, said he needed to consider in order to oppose partisan gerrymandering.

Supporters of redistricting reform across Illinois should be heartened by the Whitford decision because what ails Wisconsin galls Illinois. For context, because of partisan gerrymandering, approximately 40 percent of elections for both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature were noncompetitive. By contrast, more than 60 percent of Illinois legislative elections were uncompetitive last November.

Since November, CHANGE Illinois, a coalition of individuals and organizations fighting for fair maps, competitive elections, ballot access, and government transparency, has accepted the baton from the Independent Map Amendment coalition and has been hard at work to find a pathway to enact responsible redistricting in Illinois. We are encouraged that, despite past setbacks, partners, donors and supporters in Illinois and around the nation are standing firm about not giving up. Needless to say, we will be watching the U.S. Supreme Court’s Whitford decision with great interest. In the meantime, we haven’t ruled out any option to bring fairness to the redistricting process in Illinois—including litigation in a federal venue.

I often hear people tell me in my travels that it would take a miracle for redistricting reform to happen in Illinois. When I encounter these doubters, I trade hats from political reformer to a die-hard baseball fan and remind them that change doesn’t happen overnight. If the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series, redistricting reform can and will happen in Illinois.

Ra Joy is the executive director of CHANGE Illinois.