Monday, March 07, 2011

Shine a light on ... redistricting: Models of how to raise public involvement, participation in 2011 remap

The redistricting bill Gov. Quinn signed into law today creates new criteria designed to protect communities in the map-drawing process, but fails to provide meaningful transparency and public involvement mandates.

ICPR testified to this effect in both the Senate and House committees when the bill was debated this winter. After the plan, SB 3976, passed, we dropped Gov. Pat Quinn a note in which we urged him to watchdog the remap and use his position (and bully pulpit) to inject transparency into the remap process, if need be.

The new law calls on lawmakers to hold a mere four public hearings in the state before they can pass a map dictating the borders for the Illinois House and Senate districts.

The bill doesn’t mandate that lawmakers share maps of those new districts – which will stand for the next 10 years, until after next Census – before they pass them, nor does it create opportunities for the public to involve themselves directly in the boundary-drawing process.

But as the legislation’s Democratic sponsors explained to us during debates on this measure in the Capitol, there’s nothing to prevent either lawmakers (or the governor) for going above and beyond the disappointing minimums that SB 3976 establishes.

Across the country, many governments have created opportunities for the residents observe and participate in the district-drawing process. Here's are three concepts that have popped up on our radar, any of which could adapted and replicated in Illinois to improve our state's 2011 remap:

- In Fairfax County, Virginia, the Board of Supervisors has appointed an advisory citizens commission to provide suggestions to the Board, which approves maps establishing its new districts. The panel has geographic representatives, as well as individuals representing ethnic and racial communities and the political parties. Additionally, the Board accepts comments from the public, who is also welcome to comment on drafts at an open meeting, or even submit its own map proposals.

- In Florida, the state House has created a web-based redistricting program, called My District Builder, through which users can use detailed demographic data to propose their own maps. The House also has created an online redistricting hub which provides visitors with a wealth of information about the importance of redistricting, laws governing the process and the legislature.

- In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced a bill which would mandate public hearings on redistricting to be held statewide, require the redistricting commission to take input from the public and consider alternative maps, and instruct the map-drawers to explain the rationale for its final plan.

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