Monday, April 12, 2010

ICPR Opposes Partisan Redistricting

Testimony Presented to the Senate Redistricting Committee
By the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
April 12, 2010

Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121
Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 104

There should be no question that Illinois needs to reform the way legislative district boundaries are drawn in Illinois, and the Senate’s convening of committee hearings in recent months and the introduction of various proposed changes indicate to us that the Senate shares our belief that the current system needs major changes.

Redistricting is an issue that is of critical importance not just to specific communities or interest groups, but also to every individual in this state. It’s not merely a process that affects Senators and members of the General Assembly, but is a cornerstone of our democracy. And because it’s an opportunity that only comes every decade, it’s important that Illinois gets it right.

While we are heartened that this committee is debating these amendments, it is regrettable that we are working in an abbreviated timeframe. We are hopeful that the feedback the committee hears today will spur improvements to the amendment introduced by the chairman, Sen. Raoul, and that ultimately the General Assembly will approve an amendment that dramatically improve the existing system.

If given the choice only between SJRCA 104, more commonly known as the Illinois Fair Map initiative, and SJRCA 121, the proposal sponsored by Senate Democrats, we prefer Illinois Fair Map. The centerpiece of that proposal is the creation of an independent, bi-partisan commission. Putting the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission is in our judgment far superior to maintaining the status quo of allowing elected officials to draw their own districts.

Let’s all recognize that the lottery element and drafting of maps away from the public eye must change. We’re heartened that both amendments, and both parties, have acknowledged this. There are several positive elements of both plans. The expanded criteria for map drawing and particularly the explicit recognition of the need to protect minority-voting rights is critically important in a state as richly diverse as ours. Also, the transparency that is built into these plans represents a significant step forward and is fundamental to the development of an accountable redistricting model.

ICPR does not believe that drawing legislative maps to advantage one party over another and to assist with or hurt the election chances of specific incumbents should be part of the redistricting process. That’s one major reason we prefer SJRCA 104, Fair Map. It has protections against that kind of political map-making, starting with removing the pens from the hands of incumbents.

More competitive districts – drawn to represent voter, rather than incumbent interests– can result in more people being willing to run for the General Assembly. That in turn can bring more discussion of issues and involve more voters. It may or may not be detrimental to incumbents, but we believe it is better for the people of Illinois.

The mapmaking process always will involve tradeoffs with an impact on politics. However, the Fair Map plan does a good job of insulating mapmaking from the type of political tug-of-war that has little to do with the best interests of constituents. The Senate Democrats’ plan, on the other hand, does little to change patterns of incumbent protection and the drawing of maps that benefit one political party — or one candidate — over the other. Allowing a simple majority of lawmakers to create the districts that will be used for the next 10 years is unacceptable.

We don’t consider SJRCA 121 in its current form to be adequate reform. If, however, the General Assembly moves forward with SJRCA 121, you should, at a minimum, consider some of the following changes:

• Require a 3/5ths supermajority to approve all redistricting plans produced by the General Assembly.

• Require the governor to approve or veto any map approved by one or both chambers, and allow for an override of a veto by a 3/5ths vote.

• Prohibit the appointment of legislators to redistricting commissions and place additional limits on appointees to make it less likely commission members have livelihoods dependent on General Assembly action in the near future.

• Give the public an opportunity to review and comment on the qualifications of people being considered for appointment to the commissions.

• Give the Illinois Supreme Court the ability to resolve problems with an invalid map as it sees fit.

Redistricting is intended to protect voters’ rights by not just adjusting boundaries for population changes, but by creating districts that allow the public to have a real opportunity to choose their representatives. Broadly speaking, redistricting is supposed to safeguard our right to representation—the bedrock of our democracy.

We are eager to work with this committee and all members of the General Assembly to craft a proposal that will improve the districting process in 2011. However, no matter what the outcome of the amendments being discussed today, or of the citizen’s initiative, the eyes of Illinois will be following the process in 2011.

Technology will allow people and organizations the opportunity to evaluate legislative maps like never before. We believe the public will use these tools and will not tolerate the misuse and abuse of the redistricting process to put partisan interests before public interests.

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