Two years after a lawsuit backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan kept a citizen-led redistricting reform effort off the ballot, Madigan himself voted to get an anti-gerrymandering amendment before voters on Nov. 8. By a 105-7 vote, the House approved a constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, that proposes removing politicians from the drawing of state legislative district maps and creating an independent commission overseen by the Illinois Supreme Court. The amendment, HJRCA 58, now moves to the Senate. If the amendment receives 36 votes in the Senate, it would be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters. Tuesday’s vote was a landmark in Illinois politics as reform groups for decades have decried the highly political process of re-drawing legislative maps every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The opportunity to control boundary-making has long been the most coveted prize of both political parties, who have skillfully used the once-a-decade redistricting to more securely embed incumbents of their own party and punish lawmakers of the opposite party.
When Republicans drew the map following the 1990 census, the result was so GOP-friendly that House Speaker Michael Madigan was relegated to minority leader status for two years. They were the only two years since 1983 that Madigan and the Democrats have not controlled the House. In the decades that followed, Democrats won the right to draw the map and now control super-majorities in both chambers. (For a fast primer on redistricting and gerrymandering in Illinois, and the almost comic process by which the map-drawing party has been determined in most years, see this infographic.)
This is why the current map-drawing system has been derided as an “incumbent protection program” in which lawmakers choose their voters rather than the other way around.
But Franks’ amendment almost certainly would not have been called for a vote in the House if not for a well-organized citizen initiative that this week plans to submit 580,000 voter signatures to the Illinois State Board of Elections to force a redistricting reform amendment onto the November ballot.