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Our View: Redistricting in Illinois still needs reform

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Illinois politicians aren’t ready for redistricting reform.

That was easy to tell by the gerrymandered state House, Senate and congressional maps drawn by politicians after the 2010 Census.

Legislative Democrats controlled the process, and the results were predictable: party gains of seven seats in the state House, five seats in the state Senate, and four seats in the congressional delegation.

But had Republicans run things, they, too, would have done their best to draw the maps in their favor.

That’s why politics must be removed from the redistricting process so that politicians are made more accountable to the people.

That message came through loud and clear at a recent redistricting reform seminar in Springfield, sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Maria Blanco, a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, said, “The voters really want the politics out of this process.”

Craig Curtis, a Bradley University professor, said: “Redistricting in Illinois is more about conserving political power than serving the people. That’s wrong.”

Colleen Coyle Mathis, of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, said, “Constituents win in competitive districts.”

And Don Racheter, of Iowa’s Public Interest Institute, said, “There should be a realistic chance that the incumbents can lose.”

In Illinois’ “archaic and intensely political system,” as Linda Baker of Southern Illinois University put it, redistricting serves the politicians first and the public last.

That could change because of CHANGE Illinois!, a coalition that has floated the idea of establishing a nonpartisan, independent commission to create fair districts for the state House and Senate.

CHANGE Illinois! seeks the public’s input regarding a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The amendment would create a politically neutral process to redraw House and Senate districts every 10 years.

Openness, transparency and citizen input at all phases of the process are promised. We like the sound of that.

The amendment would not affect how congressional districts are drawn, because the state constitution does not address the topic. However, expectations are that reform of the state remap process would influence the federal process for the better.

People who want to see details of the proposed amendment can visit online.

After getting citizen input, CHANGE Illinois! will finalize the amendment text next month, place the final amendment language on petitions, and begin a drive to collect nearly 300,000 signatures by April 2014 to place it on the November 2014 ballot. Then voters will decide the amendment’s fate.

“Changing the way Illinois does redistricting is the best, surefire path to a more fair and effective government in Illinois,” CHANGE Illinois! Chairman George A. Ranney Jr. said in a news release.

A number of good government groups support this latest redistricting reform effort. We do, too.

Redistricting should be for the people, not the politicians. The initiative by CHANGE Illinois! has the potential to accomplish that worthy goal.

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