ICPR calls on House Redistricting Committee to bring more sunshine into remap

ICPR trekked out to Aurora Monday to urge the a House Redistricting Committee to bring more sunshine into the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing state House, Senate and Congressional district borders.

Both the House and the Senate have committed to going above a new law's requirement that each chamber hold four public hearings on the remap. This weekend, the Senate publicly committed to holding two additional meetings on draft maps, in advance of a vote. Although specifics about these meetings -- such as the location and format of the hearings -- haven't been made public, ICPR applauds the Senate for moving to add more transparency into the redistricting process.

At the House hearing at the Illinois Math & Science Academy in Aurora, ICPR urged the House to match the Senate's efforts in this regard. Our testimony follows:

Testimony to the House Redistricting Committee
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
April 18, 2011

Good afternoon! My name is Whitney Woodward and I represent the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. ICPR is a non-partisan, non-profit, public interest group that researches and advocates for transparency and accountability in government and politics.

For the last 18 months, we have been working to educate the public about redistricting and how it affects government. Much of our work has been to highlight the lack of sunshine and meaningful opportunities for public involvement in the remap process, as well as to advocate that the General Assembly conduct the 2011 redistricting in a more transparent manner.

We are pleased that the House, through this committee, already has committed to going above and beyond the requirement established by SB 3976, a bill signed into law in March which requires each chamber to hold four public hearings on the remap.

In addition, we are happy to note that the House, in addition to the Senate, has increased opportunities for public involvement outside of this hearing process through the creation of mapping workstations and the establishment of informational websites.

However, this committee has yet to commit to the most important transparency component that can be offered to the people of Illinois: The public vetting and editing of draft legislative and Congressional district maps. We echo the call that many of today’s speakers have made about the importance of sharing proposed maps with the public, and I’d like to build on some of those comments.

As we explained during the debate on SB 3976 this past winter, it’s not only the quantity of public hearings, but the quality of those hearings, that matter. While the gathering of public comments can provide valuable guidance to map-drawers, that pre-map input, by itself, does not provide enough sunshine.

As outsiders to the actual mapping process, the public has no idea if or how the information taken by this committee will be weighed against other suggestions and whether residents’ guidance will be incorporated into the final districts. By providing an opportunity for residents to view maps before they’ve been finalized, and by considering their proposed changes in an open forum, this committee can answer these questions.

After completing the scheduled public meetings this committee has planned around the state, concluding with a hearing in the Capitol one week from today, this committee should release draft state House, Senate and Congressional district maps through the committee’s website. The maps should be distributed in a commonly available format, such as a PDF, in addition to a block equivalency file, so that parties with access to mapping software can use those programs to analyze the districts and offer specific changes.

Along with the release of draft districts, the committee should publish tables describing the demographics of proposed districts and explainer text outlining why districts were drawn the way they are. This narrative will help residents understand the often complex reasons behind districts’ shapes and possibly forestall some questions and opposition.

The act of releasing draft maps for public input will send a loud message to Illinois residents that there’s nothing to hide in this remap process and that you’re willing to discuss, defend and adjust your map with your constituents.

We salute the Senate Redistricting Committee’s indication that it will hold two public hearings on draft maps. We ask that the House Redistricting Committee match that chamber by holding two such meetings, several days after the release of a map, at which public comments on draft districts can be gathered and changes made to the final product before a vote.

The General Assembly has more than six weeks before its scheduled adjournment May 31. That gives this body ample time to complete pre-map hearings, release draft maps for public vetting, and then hold additional meetings to consider feedback.

It should come as no surprise to you that, thanks to advances in technology, media coverage and community engagement, the 2011 redistricting cycle will be subject to unprecedented scrutiny. It is in both in the public interest, and your interest, as lawmakers, to proceed with this remap in a meaningfully transparent and accountable way. We applaud the steps the General Assembly has taken in this direction, but will continue to advocate for this outstanding sunshine component we feel is quite valuable.

While it may seem impossible to pass a map that pleases all individuals and interest groups, it is quite possible for you to pass a map that the public has had ample opportunity to study and influence.

ICPR looks forward to working with Majority Leader Currie, this committee and all members of the General Assembly in ensuring that the public is given a meaningful role in this important process.

Thank you.