Illinois lawmakers are facing a May 3 deadline to approve a joint resolution that would alter how congressional and legislative maps are drawn across the state to help make elections more competitive.
Lawmakers typically draw maps every 10 years by using new census data, without getting input from the public. The process has sparked criticism from some people in the public and in many government reform groups that it essentially results in lawmakers choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their elected officials.
A combined 47 legislators are sponsoring an amendment in which maps would be redrawn by an independent commission that is “demographically, politically and geographically representative” of Illinois, The State Journal-Register reported. The commission would release all communication and data amassed to create the maps and require at least 30 public hearings on the proposed maps before a final vote.
Brad McMillan is co-chair on the board of directors for Illinois CHANGE, a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition promoting the measure. He said the group modeled the proposed changes after other states, namely California, turned the process over to an independent commission.
One outcome of fairer maps is more competitive elections. In 2018, nearly half of Illinois state legislative races consisted of incumbents with no challenger, while more than 80% of the races featured the winner receiving over 55% of the vote.
But as long as state government is controlled by one party — currently Democrats — some GOP lawmakers are doubtful that any change will occur by next month's deadline.
“It’s a difficult bill to get at,” said Republican Sen. Steve McClure of Springfield. “Quite frankly it’s because the Democrats have overwhelming power and why would they want to make maps fairer? It doesn’t serve their interest, it just doesn’t. ... And quite frankly, if Republicans were in power, they probably would do the same thing.”
Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, supports the concept, but thinks the current proposal needs modification.
“It’s very narrow, but it’s important and I think it needs to change slightly in order to best reflect the people of the state and the needs of the diverse communities in the state,” Manar said.
Still, Manar said it will be a challenge for the Legislature to act on many things because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the redistricting proposal.
The General Assembly has no return date in the near future, and there aren't options to extend the deadline to approve the measure. For a constitutional amendment to appear on the general election ballot under Illinois law, it must be approved by the legislature at least six months prior to that election, which is Nov. 3 this year.