Illinois poised to take lead on remap reform nationally

SPRINGFIELD — Answering the call President Barack Obama issued in his February speech to the General Assembly, State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) secured Senate passage today of bipartisan legislation that would allow Illinois to take the lead in reforming the way states draw the boundaries of their political districts.

The interstate compact, if enacted by 37 other states, would establish a uniform, transparent procedure in which an independent commission redraws each state’s congressional and legislative maps every 10 years, insulating the crucial process from partisan gamesmanship. It would also strengthen protections for minority communities, which historically have been vulnerable to disenfranchisement during redistricting.

“We know redistricting needs to be a more open, less secretive and more independent process – one in which diversity, transparency and public participation are the predominant values,” said Raoul, who in 2011 pushed through a law bringing mandatory public hearings and important minority protections to the state legislative redistricting process. “But President Obama is right that change must encompass red and blue states alike. Illinois is ready to take the first step and challenge other states to join us.”

Raoul’s proposal is an interstate compact that would take effect only if every state with at least three congressional districts (there are currently 38 of them, including Illinois) enacts substantially similar legislation. If that happens, member states’ maps will be drawn after every census by an independent commission made up of 14 members – five affiliated with each political party and four unaffiliated with either. Each state’s auditor would bear primary responsibility for determining the commission’s makeup. Commissioners must not be elected officials, candidates or lobbyists, and the composition of each commission would reflect the racial, gender and geographic diversity of its state. The commission would be required to hold public hearings around the state and make the data it uses available online for members of the public to draw and submit their own proposed maps. If a majority of the commission (including at least three members of each party and three unaffiliated members) could not agree on a plan, the state’s highest court would appoint special masters to complete the task.

In his Feb. 10 address to the Illinois General Assembly on the need to “build a better politics,” Obama identified partisan redistricting as a cause of political polarization and congressional gridlock. “In America, politicians should not pick their voters; voters should pick their politicians,” Obama said. “And this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states.”

“Redistricting can be a confusing process that leaves voters across America wondering why they don’t have more input, more choices and stronger civil rights protections,” Raoul said. “Now more than ever, our nation desperately needs to bolster public confidence in the integrity and fairness of our politics. It’s a nationwide problem, and Illinois is in a position to initiate a nationwide conversation about the solution.”

Senate Bill 322 now moves to the House for its consideration.

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