ICPR testified before the Cook County Redistricting Committee May 1 to ask Commissioners to increase their efforts to engage the public in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process. While the state legislative and Chicago ward redistricting process have already concluded, Cook County's redistricting process has just begun with the holding of preliminary public hearings. Read ICPR's testimony below, and for more information, visit Cook County's Redistricting Committee website, http://redistricting.cookcountyil.gov.
ICPR testimony to the Cook County Redistricting Committee
Good evening, and thank you to the Commissioners, County staff and residents for attending tonight’s public redistricting hearing.
My name is Whitney Woodward and I’m with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. ICPR is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that researches and advocates for transparency and accountability in government. For more than two years, ICPR and coalition partners have sought to increase public awareness about the redistricting process. We have worked to educate the public about the impact of redistricting on government and the historic lack of opportunities for citizens to monitor and participate in it. We also have proposed models to increase public engagement and advocated for substantive change. ICPR has worked with many of the speakers you have already heard from, or will hear from this evening, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, the League of Women Voters, the Asian American Institute and Common Cause Illinois.
Given the profound impact that redistricting can have on voter choice and residents’ representation, and the inherent problems that arise in a system that gives the elected officials with a vested interest in the outcome of the map-making process the power to create districts, there clearly exists a need for sunshine and public participation in Cook County’s 2012 redistricting process.
We commend the County for taking action to engage the public in this vital process, through the creation of this committee, the holding of this and other preliminary public hearings, offering residents access to a mapping terminal, and creating an informational website.
There are three specific requests we ask of the Redistricting Committee as you begin the next phase of your work:
1) Immediately release ranked criteria by which Commissioners will draw the county’s districts and by which maps submitted from voters will be evaluated. While we understand and appreciate that the county must draw districts of roughly equal population and which comply with federal law, including the Voting Rights Act, we do not know what other factors will be considered and how such criteria will be prioritized. ICPR does not believe incumbents’ and candidates’ home addresses should be used in the district-drawing process, because doing so prioritizes political interests at the potential expense of the public’s interest. For the same reason, we ask that the county not use voting history data in the district-drawing process, with the exception of using that information as needed to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. ICPR also suggests that the county follow the spirit of Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, which mandates the creation of coalition, crossover and influence districts whenever possible. Such districts can protect communities and empower voters by keeping such populations whole within districts in cases when they are not large enough to constitute a majority. Doing so enables groups to influence the outcome of elections and engage candidates who will be responsive to them.
2) Establish a timetable for the rest of the redistricting process. By holding this and other preliminary public hearings, you have already taken an important first step toward creating a new County map. But what happens next? The Redistricting Committee should make public a schedule by which it plans to carry out this rest of this process, and aggressively distribute this to voters and the news media so as to encourage participation. In the absence of any additional public hearings, and without a target date for completion, it is difficult for the public to monitor your progress and contribute.
3) Incorporate suggestions from the public into the final, approved map. It is imperative that before any final vote is taken on a new county map, the public be given sufficient time to evaluate and propose improvements to it. The Redistricting Committee should hold multiple public hearings across the County, scheduled with at least two weeks’ notice, to vet any proposed maps before taking a vote. Demographics and a narrative explaining the intent behind the creation of the proposal – indeed, the same information that you have requested of any public submissions – must accompany this release. ICPR notes that in recent years, the County has made notable efforts to increase transparency in county government, and we expect that desire will be reflected in your once-in-a-decade remapping process.
We know that redistricting is a complex and often contentious task. We look forward to working with you in the coming months to ensure the 2012 Cook County Redistricting process is one that is transparent and results in a map that serves voters. Thank you.