Every 10 years, a census of the national population is taken for the purpose of legislative reapportionment. Given ongoing population shifts, legislative boundaries are subsequently redrawn from congressional districts to aldermanic wards, with real political consequences. In Illinois, the process is often characterized by backroom deals, partisan gerrymandering, and even random drawings from a top hat linked to Abraham Lincoln. The end result too often entails legislators selecting their voters, instead of citizens choosing their representatives through elections.
Given the stakes of redistricting, it is incumbent upon the public to monitor the process and provide input along the way. Along these lines, the Foundation’s Journalism program supported a Specialized Reporting Institute to help educate local and statewide media on the remap in Illinois, with hopes of generating more in-depth media coverage of these critical geographic exercises.
The Civics Program works to build the knowledge, capacity and efficacy of Chicagoland educators, and conducts intensive teacher professional development throughout the year. In April 2011, the Civics Program hosted a teacher seminar on legislative redistricting. The day-long session exposed 20 classroom teachers to the state and national remapping process. Attendees also explored peer-tested lesson plans presented by a master teacher, and interacted with mapping software used by redistricting advocates and legislative staffers alike.
The Foundation also provided funding to the Illinois Campaign for Accountable Redistricting (ICAR) for the Draw the Line Illinois project. ICAR included a proposal to create an independent, nonpartisan commission responsible for drawing legislative boundaries. Although the initiative did not produce enough signatures to move forward, the state legislature did address other concerns voiced by ICAR. The state legislature passed legislation requiring public hearings on redistricting across Illinois, and instructing the legislature to consider special race- and language-based communities of interest when drawing district boundaries."
Because of population loss, Illinois lost one congressional seat in the reapportionment process. The Illinois legislature, which has a Democratic majority, released maps in late May for Congress, and the state House and Senate districts. The maps are currently being challenged in court.
The Foundation believes than an informed citizenry plays a strong role in ensuring that the redistricting process is more transparent, scrutinized, characterized by citizen input, and reflective of the interests of the populace, not politicians. We at the Foundation will continue to support initiatives that make the government accountable to the public interest.