It would be nice to believe that once the redistricting process is completed, you and I will be able to look at the map and exclaim, “I can see patterns that are logical!” I don’t think it’s going to happen.
I was going to start this paragraph in one direction and then suddenly change course in another and just as quickly zip off to some seemingly unrelated topic so distant from its beginnings your mind would reel.
That would be confusing. You would lose interest. And that would be the point.
My topic today is legislative redistricting, the process by which public officials undermine democracy and predetermine the outcome of most elections.
Illinois, along with all the other states in the Union, is in the process of legislative redistricting. This happens every 10 years following the U.S. Census.
This year, the Democrats who control the Illinois Senate and House claim they are holding hearings to obtain public input and that the process will be more open than ever before because former House Speaker Mike Madigan, the longtime political tyrant who dominated the redistricting process, is gone.
It would be nice to believe that once the process is over you and I and everyone else in this Land of Lincoln will be able to look at a map of this state and exclaim, “I can see geometric patterns that are logical.”
Legislative districts in the shapes of squares and rectangles, for example.
Or, perhaps, you might look at a map and recognize that entire communities in Chicago share the same state representative, state senator and congressman. Suburbs would not be cut in half or, more the norm, divided into jigsaw puzzle shapes that make no sense at all.
That would be nice. I don’t believe it is going to happen.
That’s because, in large part, the shapes of districts are intended to confuse voters. Ask most folks what state legislative district they live in and they shrug their shoulders. Maybe they can come up with their ward or congressional district.
Who is your state senator? Dick Durbin. Tammy Duckworth. Heck, that’s what Google says.
I have discovered most people don’t know they have a state senator and, if they do, they couldn’t give you a name.
I used to blame folks for that. I would call them ignorant. Lazy. Eventually, I came to realize they were ordinary people who were deliberately misled by a political process intended to control and discourage voter turnout.
Gerrymandering is a time-tested method to predetermine the outcome of elections. Why do the same people stay in office for decades? Why do the same political parties seem to control states all the time?
Because the political majorities in legislatures have become adept at drawing district boundary lines that keep their people in office and make it almost impossible for any challenger to win.
You’ve heard about analytics in baseball, football and basketball? Well, the politicians who control legislative district boundaries have been using computer algorithms to draw their maps now for better than 20 years.
It’s a science. I have seen maps drawn with a line separating one side of a city block from another. Why? So, a certain politician’s house can remain in a district that is considered “safe.”
But the process of gerrymandering is nearly as old as our country.
The word was coined by critics reviewing a Massachusetts redistricting map in 1812. All the the districts looked like salamanders, as a result of the political influence of the Republican governor at that time, Elbridge Gerry.
Most of the legislative districts in Illinois, and particularly in Cook County, don’t resemble anything.
There are any number of good government groups, civic organizations and newspapers that have attempted to influence the process. I commend them for their efforts. Even reputable scholars have had a whack at it.
But trying to get support from the average voter is difficult because the arguments start out at one point, go to another, move from the past to the future and leave you standing in the middle of a directionless highway with a map that defies description.
This is the Picasso of democratic politics. A work of art.
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