Illinois Policy 7/22/2016
A longtime associate of House Speaker Mike Madigan is working to silence Illinois voters on the subject of political mapmaking.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen struck down efforts July 20 to let Illinoisans vote on major reforms to the state’s political mapmaking process.
The nonpartisan Independent Maps coalition is leading the redistricting-reform push. On May 5, the group filed 570,000 signatures with the Illinois State Board of Elections in support of putting the issue to a statewide vote in November. But on May 12, a longtime ally of House Speaker Mike Madigan filed a lawsuit to block voters from considering the measure.
Two years ago, the same associate of Madigan, Michael Kasper, filed a lawsuit to quash a similar referendum. It was successful.
Larsen’s ruling handed Madigan another victory, as she found the wording of the referendum question violated the state constitution. Independent Maps vowed to appeal her decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The power of mapmaking
Throughout the state’s history, Illinois lawmakers have carefully crafted legislative maps to maximize their political advantage. This system has led to a lack of competitive elections, and an equally distressing lack of confidence in state government.
The way Madigan has played the redistricting game shows why he’d loathe allowing citizens a new way forward. Madigan’s map for the 1982 elections is perhaps his biggest political achievement, paving the way for his ascent to House Speaker in 1983. He has held that position for 31 of the past 33 years.
Madigan’s redistricting prowess was also on display in the 2014 elections. Despite Illinoisans electing a Republican governor, Madigan did not lose a single Democratic seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, maintaining supermajority control.
The current legislative districting system leaves a majority of Illinoisans without a real choice. Less than 40 percent of Illinois’ legislative races in 2016 will be contested, meaning 6 in 10 Illinois lawmakers elected this year will have a free pass to the Statehouse.
Changing the system
In practice, the current redistricting process works in a winner-take-all system wherein one of the two parties has complete control over mapmaking every 10 years, following the census. Madigan’s Democrats have held court on three of the last four occasions.
If successful, the Independent Maps referendum would give redistricting power to a bipartisan commission of 11 Illinoisans, including representation from the four legislative leaders. Every 10 years, approval of a new map would require seven votes, including two members from each political party and three independents.
Independent Maps argues this would mean fewer politically “safe” districts, fewer tortured shapes and loads more transparency.