Nearly half of Illi­nois House can­di­dates face no op­po­nent

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - Austin Berg

There are 118 seats in the Illi­noisHouse of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. But be­fore a sin­gle vote is cast on Elec­tionDay, nearly half of those seats will have been filled.

That’s be­cause 54 can­di­dates are run­ning un­op­posed.

House mem­bers’ ti­tles as “rep­re­sen­ta­tives” can ring hol­lowwith so many vot­ers hav­ing no real choice in the gen­eral elec­tion. And even in a die-hard blue or red dis­trict, los­ing the power to vote for the op­pos­ing party breeds ap­a­thy.

Of those 54 free passes, 42 are go­ing to Democrats. Some of the blame falls on the Illi­nois Repub­li­can Party for fail­ing to put warm bod­ies on the bal­lot in those dis­tricts. And they al­most cer­tainly pay the price for it, as any Repub­li­canHouse can­di­date­would likely boost turnout for the top of the ticket.

The Illi­nois Sen­ate is even less com­pet­i­tive than the­House this year. Among 39 races, vot­ers have one name to choose from in 20 of them. Four­teen of the 20 can­di­dates run­ning un­op­posed are Democrats.

More than any­thing else, these num­bers on po­lit­i­cally “safe” dis­tricts drive home the prob­lem with par­ti­san map­mak­ing.

In Illi­nois, politi­cians drawthe leg­isla­tive map every 10 years. Here’s how it­works:

Both the­House and Sen­ate must ap­prove amap, which the gov­er­nor may then veto or sign into law. If state law­mak­ers can’t get a map to the fin­ish line, party lead­er­ship ap­points an eight-mem­ber com­mit­tee to hash things out. If the com­mit­tee can’t agree on a map, the sec­re­tary of state ap­points a tiebreak­ing ninth par­ti­san by ran­dom chance. Which­ever party wins the lot­tery for the ninth seat then draws the map.

House Speaker Mike Madi­gan has drawn Illi­nois’ leg­isla­tive maps for three of the past four decades. No­tably, a three­mem­ber panel of fed­eral judges forced changes to the first mapMadi­gan drew fol­low­ing the 1980 cen­sus, af­ter they found it un­fair­ly­weak­ened the vot­ing strength of black and His­panic Illi­noisans.

Ac­cord­ing to a Chicago Tri­bune ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in Jan­uary 1982, that­was the first time a court in a north­ern state had found the Demo­cratic Party guilty of in­ten­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion against mi­nori­ties.

The judges’ rul­ing, “held in ef­fect that those who drew up the map – pri­mar­ily (then-)House Mi­nor­ity Leader MikeMadi­gan of Chicago andMart­inMur­phy, (Chicago) Mayor (Jane) Byrne’s plan­ning com­mis­sioner – de­lib­er­ately de­signed it to keep black and His­panic rep­re­sen­ta­tion low,” the ed­i­to­rial board­wrote.

Nearly 40 years later, the map­mak­ing process re­mains the same. And that means who­ever be­comes the next gov­er­nor will have a key role to play in­map­mak­ing af­ter the 2020 cen­sus.

If J.B. Pritzker wins the gov­er­nor’s race and the House and Sen­ate re­main un­der Demo­cratic con­trol, Pritzker will have to de­cide whether to ap­prove a par­ti­san­map drawn by his own party come 2021 or de­mand amore in­de­pen­dent process.

Gov. Bruce Rauner would face the same choice if he wins and Re­pub­li­cans take over the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Ei­ther man, if elected, must fight to get politi­cians out of the car­tog­ra­phy game.

More Illi­noisans de­serve a say on who their com­mu­ni­ties send to Spring­field.

Austin Berg, a writer for the Illi­nois Pol­icy In­sti­tute, wrote this col­umn for the Illi­noisNewsNet­work.

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