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OUR VIEW: State can't escape map misery

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With multiple opportunities to get it right, Illinois keeps getting it wrong. Even though next week offers another (possibly final) opportunity for corrections, Illinois’ legislative maps will probably remain a gerrymandered mess for another 10 years.

This can has been kicked as far down the road as it can go.

The current Democrat plan for mapping – the latest of numerous attempts, one of which has been ruled unconstitutional in federal court -- is as unbalanced as it has ever been. Independents are pointing to the ridiculous shapes of some districts. Voters from Chicago suburbs are resisting being in the same district as rural residents. Even some Democrats are afraid seats might flip the way the districts are drawn. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan group that studies redistricting, gave Illinois' proposed map an "F" for fairness.

Given our state’s history, that’s hardly a surprise.

Illinois currently has 18 seats in the U.S. House, with Democrats holding 13 and Republicans the other five. The state is losing a congressional seat because of population loss, most of which occurred in heavily Republican areas of central and southern Illinois, according to the 2020 census.

After the census was released, anticipation was Democrats would target Central Illinois and make it difficult, if not impossible, for Representatives Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger to be re-elected to the House.

Illinois is one of the few states where Democrats control redistricting, and the party nationally is looking to the state for help in 2022. Democrats control the U.S. House by a thin margin, and Republicans are in charge of redistricting in more states than Democrats, which could give the GOP an advantage in next year's elections.

Worth noting is that this issue isn’t unique to Illinois, or to Democrats. In states where Republicans draw the borders, they’re being drawn favorable to Republicans. Illinois isn’t the only state in the middle of this debate every 10 years.

There has to be a better way of doing this. Gov. J.B. Pritzker had a map out of the nightmare, but reneged on his campaign pledge to reject partisan legislature map drawing. The map could still have been controversial had it been drawn in non-partisan fashion. But such controversy would have at least been different and could have come to a more satisfactory conclusion.

Instead, what’s happened is painfully predictable. Citizens and voters talking to officials about the maps complain about what they don’t have in common with others in their districts as drawn. Race is a key factor, as is the rural-urban mixtures.

One of the largest issues is more wide-reaching. When voters see that their areas of representation are being divvied up in a partisan debate, they’re bound to lose identity. They can feel disenfranchised. Not in a literal sense – they’re still able to vote. But imagining their vote counts for anything is difficult.

That ultimately winds up with the worst result possible in a dem0cracy – apathy. If we don’t care what happens, we’re leaving open the door for the worst to happen.

We must avoid that outcome. That’s why redistricting decisions are vital.

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