Editorial: Illinois cannot afford to wait for end to gerrymandering | Editorials

Supporters of independent maps in Illinois have spent years hopping toward reform on one leg.

The other has remained in the iron grip of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and a Democratic super-majority which has employed legislative tricks and sympathetic Illinois judges to ensure the hobbled movement never wins the race to give the power to elect state lawmakers back to Illinois voters.

Powerful leaders know well those who draw Illinois’ legislative districts control the state. Taxpayers reeling from a huge income tax hike and bracing for more know it, too. We also know the price we’ve paid for a rigged system that has crippled our ability to attack Illinois’ massive problems.

Things are so bad, longtime Illinois lawmakers are leaving in droves.

Amid all the doom and gloom, reformers trying to kill legislative gerrymandering before it kills our state are finding hope in a Wisconsin case set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month. If justices declare unconstitutional the gerrymandering at the center of Gill v. Whitford, and create an effective test for determining illegal mapmaking, it could be a game-changer for Illinois reformers.

Among them is a bipartisan group of 17 Illinois lawmakers pushing the U.S. Supreme Court to “repair the damage partisan gerrymandering has done to the political process.”

We salute Illinois state Sen. Chuck Weaver, R-Peoria, who represents Henry and Mercer counties in the Quad-Cities, and the other 14 Republicans, and two Democrats from Illinois who signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

That filing cites examples from the states to show why the practice is unconstitutional and suggests the U.S. Supreme Court is in the best position “to craft a nationwide standard that will put partisan gerrymanderers in check.”

Among the examples included is the 2012 Illinois election in which Democrats won 60 percent of all House seats and 68 percent of Senate seats but, statewide, won just 52 percent of the vote in House elections and 54 percent in Senate elections.

The brief also decries the marginalization of moderates created by gerrymandering on steroids. “Candidates in safe, gerrymandered districts are bound to appeal to primary voters who tend to be further from the ideological center. Once a candidate is selected as the party’s standard-bearer, the fix is in,” the brief said. “In the general election, members of the majority party reliably support their party’s candidate, and candidates in safe districts therefore need not and do not temper their views.”

The brief also attacks the price paid for the cartographic gymnastics mapmakers often employ to keep partisan advantage, citing an Illinois state House district that stretches 40 miles from Springfield to Decatur. “By drawing lines that divide communities to achieve political power … map-drawers leave community interest by the wayside.”

No wonder countless polls have shown voters nationwide oppose gerrymandering, even when it benefits the political party with which they identify. Leaders who control the maps have felt secure in ignoring the will of the people they are supposed to represent.

The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to change that, and court-watchers are optimistic that justices will attack the problem head-on, at last. They not only should end the practice, justices must do so now.

Here in Illinois, with new maps set to be drawn in 2020 that could extend our state’s gerrymander-fueled dysfunction for another decade, we simply cannot afford to wait.