With time running out to give Illinois elections back to voters in 2021, we eagerly join with editorial pages around the state in urging readers to call their leaders in Springfield to demand action.
A nonpartisan coalition of 17 public-policy groups wants Illinoisans to tell Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to let senators vote on the Fair Map Amendment.
Our readers are not new to the fight against partisan gerrymandering. They know that it allows politicians to cut voters out of the process with razor-sharp precision and, in many cases, devastating results to the democratic process.
Springfield insiders claim that such hand-wringing is overblown. But these numbers tell a different story:
-- Nearly half of state legislative races were uncontested in 2018.
-- 82 percent of the races were uncompetitive (meaning the winner got more than 55 percent of the vote).
-- In past elections, that number has exceeded 90 percent of all races.
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We accept that in a democracy, "to the victor go the spoils,” and “elections have consequences.” But when the deck is stacked so heavily in favor of the party in power -- whether Republican or Democrat -- it no longer resembles a democracy but an oligarchy.
Illinois and other states, as well as our nation, have suffered the consequences of concentrating power in the hands of small group of leaders who are intent on keeping it. As Cullerton’s one-time Illinois Senate colleague and former President Barack Obama has said, gerrymandering is "how a party gains more seats while winning fewer votes, which isn't fair. It means that politicians don’t have to worry as much about a serious challenge from the other side. That moves our debate from the rational, reasonable middle where most Americans are to the extremes."
A vast majority of Illinois lawmakers -- many of whom have benefited from or been hurt by gerrymandering -- say they support fair maps. If we take them at their word, only Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan stand in the way of a resolution that gives voters the power to decide who draws Illinois political maps: politicians or an independent commission. Madigan, who owes his massive power in part to his mapmaking prowess, won’t move the amendment until he believes he has no choice.
Cullerton, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to embrace reforms if he believes they are good for the state and voters want them. Leadership from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has pledged to veto any gerrymandered map that reaches his desk, also can help convince legislative leaders to yield to the wishes of his constituents.
A whopping 70 percent of Illinois residents support independent maps, according to the Paul Simon Public Policy institute. But poll numbers are no substitute for the combined voices of Illinoisans demanding action. It was, after all, a citizen call-in campaign that convinced state leaders to end the record budget impasse.
Many Quad-Citians who joined that effort are part of a cadre of volunteers who helped collect nearly 600,000 signatures to put independent maps on the ballot in 2014. Only the Illinois Supreme Court stood in the way of a vote.
Now reformers are back with a new amendment designed to survive a court challenge and put an end to politicians' "incumbency-protection racket.” But time is running out to keep it alive. The deadline to get the measure on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot, is May 3, 2020. If it doesn't make it, voters could be condemned to contend for another decade under the old, unfair and broken system.
Don't let that happen. Beginning this Monday, please call Cullerton at 217-782-2728 to respectfully demand that he release Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 4 for debate and a vote. Then call Gov. Pritzker at 217-782-6830 and ask him to do what he can to help make the current map the last one in which politicians choose their voters and not the other way around.