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June 22, 2005

Time to fix Illinois' gerrrymandering ways

Reapportionment. 2011. Gerrymander.

Bored yet? Yup, I was a'feared of that.

Important topics, though, and they need to be talked about now if there's to be any chance at all of fixing the grossly partisan mess Illinois created when it drew congressional maps after the 2000 census.

Take a look at these two maps, one of Iowa's
congressional districts
, the other of Illinois'.
Though some Iowans complained in 2001 that their new map looked "like something the Texas Legislature would come up with," it's a model of idealistic, sound governance when compared to the bizarre twists and turns of the Illinois districts. The 17th, which includes Rock Island County, is the most bizarre of all.

It was singled out by The Economist when the London-based news magazine reported on the U.S. reapportnment of 2001: ``Weirdly shaped districts like (this) are signs that a crime has been committed," the magazine said.

It also said, ``In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around.''

If that sad trend is to be reversed in the 2011 remap done after the 2010 census, the Illinois Constitution needs to be amended. The process used now doesn't work for anyone except party leaders divvying up the state among themselves.

As matters stand, the remap job falls first to the Legislature, and when it misses its deadline, which is always does, an eight-member commission appointed by legislative leaders takes over. The commission, which by law must have four people from each major party, always deadlocks, at which time a ninth member is added by drawing lots, which gives one party or the other control. Even that didn't settle the issue in 2001, when both the Illinois Supreme Court and a U. S. District Court ended up ruling on the acceptability of the plan.

With all that, we still got a map that looks like a drunken chimp drew it.

The Legislature, if three fifths of lawmakers agree, could propose Constitutional changes to be submitted to voters.

Or, assuming changes in the Article IV remap provisions count as a "structural and procedural subject", voters could force a vote through a petition.

Whichever method is to be used, those many Illinois residents offended by the obvious gerrymandering of the state need to get started. Six years is little enough time for such an effort.

Iowa, incidentally, offers a model worth studying when looking for a new method. The non-partisan Legislative Service Bureau, advised by a Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee, draws the first map and presents it the Legislature.
While partisan politics cannot be eliminated from the process, Iowa's methodology offers a realistic chance of minimizing outright gerrymandering. The mere shape of the two states' maps demonstrates that.
Anyway, when the Illinois legislative candidates come around asking for your vote, ask them if they this see a problem that needs attention.
Asked often enough, they may. If not, there's always a petition drive, if offended citizens can organize themselves.
John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online. johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at June 22, 2005 10:07 AM


Excellent post jcb, and very informative---you certainly answered my perennial question, "Why can't we just be like Iowa?"

I hope you'll feature this in your column or use it as a news article since it's obviously very well researched.

Posted by: paladin at June 22, 2005 05:36 PM

John, thank you for the reapportionment column. It needs to be said, and said often: What the state of Illinois did to protect incumbents' seats was a crime. So is what Texas did (again) to reinforce the party in power. We need to clean our own house first, but what is truly needed is national legislation to battle such gerrymandering.
I'm an Illinois Democrat, but I really don't care which party a rational reapportionment would "favor." It simply should be what the Constitution calls for: balanced and contiguous. Feed it into the computer and live with the results for 10 years. I have great respect for Iowa politicians and their redistricting process. I have none whatsoever for Illinois'.

Posted by: Brian Nelson at June 23, 2005 12:36 AM

While its not quite as obvious as the 17th, it still floors me that Dennis Hastert's district now stretches to the Rock Island county border.

I don't see how someone from the greater Chicagoland area could stand up for Western Illinois. Having lived in both Kendall County (Denny's home county) and the qc area, it's quite a difference.

Posted by: Transplant at June 23, 2005 09:53 AM

While some folks in the portion of Henry County in Hastert's district saw a benefit in being represented by the speaker, the division of smaller counties among districts mostly dilutes already faint voices.

Whiteside County (population 60,000), just north of the Quad-Cities, got chopped into three triangular slices in 2001.

Iowa forbids the division of counties among congressional districts. That wouldn't altogether work in Illinois, where the population of Cook County and environs justifies multiple congresspeople, but it'd be a good idea to say that "counties of less than ???? population" could not be sliced and diced.

Re: amending the constitution -- in addition to the legislature or public proposing a change in Article 4, the issue could be broached in a Constitutional Convention.
Whether calling a convention is a good idea was a question of the day on Rich Miller's capitolfax.com.

I'm skeptical about a con-con. The 1970 Constitution has a flaw or two, as in the redistricting procedures, but it's basically a sound document.

Posted by: John Beydler at June 23, 2005 12:05 PM


Excellent column on the reapportionment process, especially as it compares to Iowa. It would be refreshing if Illinois behaved a bit more like the Hawkeye State, at least in this department.


Posted by: Porter McNeil at June 28, 2005 09:44 PM

Thanks. I take it that, if you're a candidate, you'd pledge to introduce/support bill to amend reapportionment provisions in Constitution?

By the way, are you a candidate?

Posted by: John Beydler at June 29, 2005 11:29 AM


No, I am not a candidate for the Illinois House --but I am considering running. If I were to run, I would be inclined to support amending the reapportionment provision of our Constitution.

Posted by: Porter McNeil at June 29, 2005 12:03 PM

I asked Porter to elaborate on factors affecting his decision. His response:

"There are a few factors that are influencing my decision, one of which is whether State Rep. Mike Boland stays put and the other is whether I can generate enough votes within my own family for my run! I figure if I can't win the votes of immediate family members, I shouldn't run in the first place.

"That's where I am right now."

- Porter

Posted by: John Beydler at June 29, 2005 03:03 PM

Family views aside, Porter was the big winner in a non-scientific poll conducted by C-C blogger The Inside Dope.

Posted by: John Beydler at June 29, 2005 04:36 PM