Commission, not lawmakers, should draw legislative maps

A group of bipartisan lawmakers has introduced a new amendment to our state’s Constitution that would take the process of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of sitting lawmakers.

Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment (SJRCA) 18 would place a question on the ballot to create a new, independent commission that would handle Illinois’ legislative map-drawing process.

The independent, 17-member commission would be appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, to draw the Congressional and General Assembly district maps. Seven commission members would be nominated from each political party, and three commission members will not be affiliated with either political party. The public would be allowed to provide comment and submit maps during the map-drawing process for consideration by the Commission.

Passing this proposal is an important first step in rooting out government corruption, and would send a strong message to Illinoisans that the status quo in Springfield is no longer acceptable. For SJRCA 18 to be placed on the ballot in the upcoming General Election, it must be adopted by the Senate and the House of Representative no later than May 3.

Every 10 years, following the decennial U.S. Census, Illinois’ Congressional and General Assembly maps are redrawn. Illinois currently has a winner-take-all system for the redistricting process, where the politicians who are in control right now have the power to draw the maps for the next 10 years.

This gives them the ability to shift district lines to create an advantage for the members of their party. This system is what creates strangely-shaped districts and uncompetitive elections. Also known as gerrymandering, the process allows politicians to steal the election before the voters even go to the polls, and shape the direction of our state government and public policy for decades.

The term gerrymandering is credited to Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. Gerry signed a law that redistricted his state in such a manner that overwhelmingly benefited his political party. One of the Congressional districts was said to resemble the shape of a salamander, to which one member of the other political party reportedly replied: No, it’s a gerrymander.

There have also been a few interestingly shaped districts in Illinois over the years. Sometimes one community will have two or more lawmakers. It really makes little sense.

We have been advocating for Fair Maps for many years now but so far entrenched political leaders haven’t allowed similar bills to advance, despite a nationwide call for fair map plans from members of both parties.

We are asking Illinoisans to speak up and help put a Fair Maps amendment on the ballot for the next statewide election, giving voters the power to pick their legislators instead of letting lawmakers pick their voters.

I stand with the people who are demanding change. It’s time to open the doors and air out those back rooms where politicians have forced their deals upon us … for far too long. Let’s let the people of Illinois decide. To voice your support for fairer maps in Illinois, you can sign a petition on my legislative website at http://senatorstewart.com/.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas on this or other issues, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.