The Illinois General Assembly is facing widespread criticism after proposing an irregular and impractical congressional map for redistricting – a map that many say fits the textbook definition of gerrymandering.
After a significant number of citizens migrated to other states due to intense COVID-19 restrictions and massive tax increases over the past decade, the Illinois General Assembly was tasked with reducing the state’s congressional delegation from 18 seats to 17. The 2020 Census also marked the first time in 200 years in which Illinois lost population.
The proposed map has multiple districts twisting, turning and stretching in ways that most believe was done solely to craft an even heavier majority Democratic delegation than the state already has. Considering voting trends throughout Illinois, the new map is expected to yield 14 Democratic seats and three for Republicans, a -3 movement for the GOP from the current makeup of five Republican seats and 13 for the Democrats.
The heavily-partisan swing is no surprise for many, however. An independent non-profit reform group called Represent.Us released a report in April predicting Illinois as one of the most at-risk states for partisan gerrymandering.
Illinois Democrats’ apparent attempt at one-sided redistricting isn’t a brand new phenomenon for its citizens, either. Following the 2010 Census, Democrats’ 2011 map forced incumbent Republicans to face each other in primaries and protected Democratic incumbents from competition.
Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker repeatedly promised during his campaign that he would veto any gerrymandered maps, he later walked back that statement and signed the proposed maps on June 4. Illinois GOP Chairman Don Tracy called the governor out on his flip-flopping and labeled the repeated promise as a “BIG LIE.”
“The people of Illinois fundamentally do not trust our leadership in Springfield to spend their money wisely, to do the right thing, or to reform our system,” Tracy said. “Absolutely nothing fuels that fire more than politicians who say one thing to get elected and then do another once in power. Governor Pritzker lied to the people of Illinois and promised to turn our partisan and corrupt system of redistricting over to an independent commission.”
The remapping of the state legislative districts has also received backlash as the new maps are currently being challenged in federal court by state Republicans and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education fund.
Tracy and many Illinois Republicans have heavily criticized Democrats for drawing partisan maps seemingly designed to ensure a Democratic majority in the 2022 Congressional midterm elections.
“It’s appalling that fair representation, keeping communities of interest together, and transparency in the mapmaking process in Illinois all had to take a back seat to the demands of national politics,” Tracy said. “Call this new Illinois map the ‘Nancy Pelosi Protection Plan.’”
A significant consequence of gerrymandering is reducing voter participation and discouraging candidates to run for office as partisan maps give opposing candidates a slim chance of success.
According to the Illinois Policy Institute, there was an average of 4.7 million voting-age Illinois citizens who lived in a district where there was only one option for state representative on the ballot in 2020. 44% of House of Representative seats and 50% of State Senate candidates in Illinois were uncontested in 2020, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Since the one-sided 2011 maps ravaged Republicans’ chance at fair representation, the voices of opposition have grown stronger in support of implementing a nonpartisan redistricting commission. In 2016, a movement to place a fair maps question on the ballot received over 550,000 signatures from Illinois voters before being shot down by the Illinois Supreme Court.
According to a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, a significant 72% of Illinoisans favored the idea of appointing an independent commission in charge of redistricting compared to a mere 18% who were against it.
As support for a nonpartisan commission climbs and criticism of Illinois Democrats’ one-sided maps continue, the governor and General Assembly can expect more pressure to reform the heavily biased redistricting process.