Monitoring redistricting reform

By Editorial Board

Once the 2010 Census results are finalized, the scramble to redraw legislative districts will begin. The process is notorious nationwide for back-door deals, secrets and gerrymandering. District lines are based on which communities politicians want included in their voter base.

On Dec. 1, the Illinois Senate passed the Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act, a reform package designed to have the public more involved in legislative redistricting. The measure moved to the House and has until Jan. 11 to be approved or the bill will not be enacted in the current session.

The legislation’s principles move in the direction our state needs to take. The act aims to bring transparency to the process by requiring redistricting committees to hold four public hearings throughout the state. It also protects minority groups from getting too split between districts to influence election outcomes. The House should pass the act to encourage stricter, fairer practices during redistricting.

However, if the act is passed, realizing its potential will largely rest with Illinois citizens. Seven amendments to the act were rejected, including prohibiting map drawers to take an area’s party voting history into account. Public hearings would not require the committee to present new map drawings at any point.

If citizens take full advantage of the meetings it should allow them to oversee the process, make suggestions and demand specifics from legislators. If the act is passed it is imperative citizens attend these hearings and take a more active role in a process that affects our vote more than many realize.

If the act fails to pass and redrawing state maps begins without reform, citizens should demand more transparency and unbiased planning from the redistricting committee by contacting their legislators. Illinois has no bipartisan commission to review the process; therefore citizens must become the independent watchdog.

Whether or not the bill is passed, there will be little impact on the redistricting process unless Illinoisans continue to press the issue and urge change.