August 25, 2016, will be remembered as the day when 570,000 Illinois’ registered voters’ voices were suppressed by a court system’s partisan vote of 4-3. Justice Robert Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion, “The Illinois constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it.” Here in Illinois tyranny has been extended as Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Cullerton continue their collective 82 years in political office.
The map making process is rigged. The political games are so entrenched in Illinois’ history that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it became about advancing a party’s initiative rather than the people’s, but the rise of Speaker Madigan’s influence in the mapmaking process after the 1980 census provides us a starting point.
Speaker Madigan has fought with such resolve against the passage of redistricting reform because he knows how much is at stake for his party to lose. After all, he was the one who spearheaded the rise of the “democratic machine” we have today. In a calculated effort to ensure more democratic seats for Chicago, Speaker Madigan used his first remapping experience to secure six additional House seats and three additional Senate seats for his party.
Some voters may remember the notorious Cutback Amendment (1980), which ended a process of cumulative voting and multi-member House districts in Illinois. The Cutback Amendment was professed as good policy to decrease salary and benefit expenses for legislative members by reducing the number of House Representatives from 177 to 118. While the amendment reduced expenses, it also reduced party representation. Madigan used his gerrymandering skills to guarantee that 43 of the 59 abolished seats removed representation belonging to Republican members only.
Illinois has an entrenched political regime that must give way to the will of the people. Currently 67% of the Illinois Senate are Democrats, while the state over all is more balanced. This shows how the political mapping process can be highjacked by a single party. The only way for Illinois voters to regain their voice is to hold their elected officials accountable. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled voters cannot change the mapping process, but the Court was direct in affirming that the Illinois General Assembly has the power to make the change. To free our mapping process from the tyranny of a repressive system, I encourage voters across Illinois to demand their legislators support redistricting reform as a primary policy initiative to restore good governance and confidence to Illinois.
We need this reform in all states, but Illinois especially highlights why the system is broken. Residents want balance, compromise, and good government. The counterweight, who fear political retribution from the Chicago machine, blindly ignored the will of the people and the common sense of the Illinois constitution.