Senate redistricting proposal falls short on transparency

Redistricting is among the weighty issues the General Assembly took a crack at this veto session. But like so many other reform issues lawmakers have tackled, this well-intentioned legislation falls a little short.

Senate Bill 3976, sponsored by Senate Redistricting Chairman Kwame Raoul, touches on two important portions of the map-drawing process: Minority voting rights and transparency.

The first section of the bill requires map-drawers to create crossover, coalition and influence districts, whenever possible, after following federal and state rules including the Voting Rights Act. These types of districts help minority voters who constitute less than a majority of an area’s voting age populations to elect representatives of their choice and influence the outcome of elections. (See p. 16 of this redistricting guide from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund for more information.)

ICPR endorses this portion of the bill.

But the second portion, which purportedly seeks to bring sunshine into the redistricting process, leaves much room for improvement. Historically, map-drawing – which is of huge importance to both Republicans and Democrats, and a process which one party tries to single-handedly control – has been conducted in secrecy. While both chambers have held some committee meetings to discuss the public’s needs, when it’s time to put the pen to paper, the public hasn’t been invited.

Public involvement and oversight in this process is sorely needed.

But the legislation would mandate that lawmakers hold four meetings in different parts of the state following the release of Census data, which is expected in early 2011 … and that’s it.

There’s no requirement that the public be given an opportunity to chime in on draft maps, before they become law and establish the districts that will stand for 10 years. And there’s no mandate that the state provide Illinoisans with the tools to draw their own maps for consideration.

ICPR testified on this bill in committee Tuesday. Democrats who control the committee and chamber swatted down proposed GOP amendments which mirrored ICPR’s suggestions to improve transparency.

Despite those concerns, Republicans are joining Democrats in supporting the bill because it is an improvement over the status quo. It passed the Senate on a 53-4 vote and is now awaiting action in the House.

ICPR urges you to contact your lawmakers and tell them you don’t want them to shut out the public this redistricting cycle. Urge them to support additional public hearings, and tell them that when next Spring rolls around, you want to provide input on redistricting maps.