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Our View: End the cheating; embrace redistricting reform Nov. 4

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 9:29 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 9, 2014 9:32 p.m. CDT

No one likes cheaters.

Baseball players who use pine tar on the outside of their bodies or steroids on the inside are roundly rebuked. Olympic athletes caught using banned substances have their medals and records taken away. World-class bicyclists who resort to doping to get an illegal edge can be banned from the sport.

Cheating in elections should be treated the same way. Call it out for what it is, and act to end it.

A most insidious form of cheating in Illinois is the gerrymandering that takes place during once-in-a-decade redistricting.

Both parties have done it when they got the chance. By redrawing legislative districts the secret, sneaky way, the party in power can gain maximum advantage, while the party out of power suffers the consequences.

Don’t believe that gerrymandering has any real impact? Consider the balance of power in the Illinois General Assembly before the new, gerrymandered map, drawn that time by Democrats, took effect in 2012, and after it took effect.

Before the 2012 election, Democrats had a 64-54 advantage in the House. Afterward, it was a 71-47 advantage. Before the 2012 election, Democrats had a 35-24 advantage in the Senate. Afterward, it was a 40-19 advantage. The real kicker?

While Democrats captured a combined total of 53 percent of the votes cast for House members, they actually won 60 percent of the total seats. And, while Democrats won a combined 52 percent of the votes cast for Senate members, they actually won 68 percent of the total seats. Those figures, provided to columnist Rich Miller by the Yes for Independent Maps coalition, quantify the staggering unfairness foisted upon voters by the current redistricting process.

Voters will have the opportunity to greatly lessen the influence of politics in redistricting process on Nov. 4. The Yes for Independent Maps coalition, which includes members from both parties, turned in more than 532,000 signatures Thursday to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reform the redistricting process. That number of signatures is well above the minimum requirement of about 300,000.

The amendment, if approved, would completely change the redistricting system for the Illinois House and Senate. Instead of politicians drawing the maps behind closed doors, a more neutral, 11-person mapmaking commission (four Democrats, four Republicans, and three independents) would be created to do the job.

Steps would be taken to block politicians, state employees, lobbyists or state contractors from serving. The final map would have to be approved by at least seven commissioners, including at least two Democrats and two Republicans.

If that doesn’t work by the deadline, then the top Republican and Democratic justices on the state Supreme Court would appoint a “special commissioner” who would have the power to draw the final map.

The commission should produce better, more representative districts that aren’t skewed by crooked lines and are less likely to elect crooked politicians.

What we need are competitive districts where elected representatives and senators are held accountable for their actions, and where they actively seek to solve the myriad problems of our deadbeat state, not merely to retain their seats through another election cycle.

A great problem with the current districts is that competition is suppressed when districts are drawn for the advantage of one party or the other.

Even in a map drawn by Democrats after the 2010 Census, some Republican safe districts were created by packing as many Republican voters into a district as possible.

Elsewhere in the state, the remaining Democratic voters were spread out to put more Senate seats into play for their party. As mentioned earlier, the map worked exceedingly well for Democrats in 2012. They parlayed 52 percent of the votes cast in all Senate districts into 68 percent of the seats (40 of the 59 total).

If that’s not cheating, legal though it may be, we don’t know what is.

We commend the Yes for Independent Maps coalition for the very difficult challenge its members undertook to reform Illinois’ redistricting process.

We urge judges to stifle any challenges to placing the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, including the lawsuit filed by a friend of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who opposes redistricting reform.

And we urge voters, come Nov. 4, to embrace the opportunity to fix Illinois’ broken redistricting system.

End the cheating, and let the public win for a change.

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