Gerrymandering in Illinois

While Gerrymandering Congressional districts to benefit incumbents and the dominant party in the state legislature is an old game, they play it with especial intensity in Illinois.

While Gerrymandering Congressional districts to benefit incumbents and the dominant party in the state legislature is an old game, they play it with especial intensity in Illinois.

During debate this week on Democrats’ remapping of Illinois congressional districts, criticized as heavily weighted against Republicans, Senate President John J. Cullerton hoisted a newspaper from 2001.

An article in that paper detailed state lawmakers’ discontent with that year’s redistricting map, which was drawn by incumbent congressmen from both parties. They were allowed to design their own districts with Democrats and Republicans striking handshake deals.

Mr. Cullerton, Democrat of Chicago, used the newspaper story to further a point. The process this time, he said, was more transparent than in 2001. Members of Congress did not sketch their own boundaries.

“I was here 10 years ago when we had one hour to vote on a map drawn by all the incumbents,” Mr. Cullerton said. “The map we passed this year is so much more compact and splits fewer counties.”

Still, their incumbent status and their party’s control in Springfield enabled Democrats to customize a map that jeopardizes five freshman Republicans. No matter their repeated attempts to justify the jigsaw puzzle based on census changes, Democrats took a razor to their colleagues’ domain. They activated every switch at their disposal: clout, secrecy and spools of electronic data that guided block-by-block precision.

The Democratic mapmakers — House and Senate staff members in Springfield whom party leaders declined to name — took into account such factors as incumbents’ home addresses, district offices, favorite churches and potential opponents, according to those familiar with the process, who asked not to be named. Lawmakers and staff members were warned not to talk publicly about redistricting because their comments could harm the map’s survival, as it is certain to land in court.

Aides to Representative Bobby Rush, Democrat of Chicago, studied vote totals precinct by precinct to ensure that his new district maintained his strongest pockets of support and dumped those areas in which he was less popular, the sources said. Mr. Rush also wanted certain churches to remain in his district, spawning juts and curves on the new map.

Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., Democrat of Chicago, picked up eastern Will County, which is hostile territory for him. The rationale was to add the site of a proposed airport outside Peotone that Mr. Jackson supports because it would provide jobs for his South Side core constituents. By shifting him into the farming communities fighting the airport, Mr. Jackson is immune from being chastised for ignoring protocol and engaging on an issue outside his district.

This is shamefully undemocratic. But it’s perfectly legal and, if anyone minds, they’ll be hard pressed to vote out the people behind it under these lines.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    Hey, it’s all the rage these days…:

    The GOP’s big Texas gerrymander

    A new proposed congressional map in Texas goes to surprisingly long lengths to stretch the number of Republican districts in the state’s delegation.

    Despite the Lonestar State voting 55 percent for Republicans in the 2008 presidential race, the GOP-controlled legislature’s proposed map features 26 districts that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out of a total of 36 districts, according to a Fix analysis based on data from the Texas Legislative Council. That’s 72 percent of districts that favor Republicans on paper.

    The big changes are the four new districts the state gained in the decennial reapportionment process thanks to its rapid population growth. Of the four, three lean Republican while one is solidly Democratic. The other big change is the shifting of Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Texas) district from a strongly Democratic district to a strongly Republican one.

    The new Republican-leaning districts went 53 percent, 57 percent and 58 percent for McCain, while the Democratic district went 38 percent for McCain. Doggett’s district would go from 40 percent McCain to 56 percent.

    In effect, Republicans appear to be trying to give themselves a good chance to gain three of the four new seats, leaving Democrats to gain just one,

  2. Gustopher says:

    As long as one side does it, the other has to. I’d point to the Texas redistricting of 2003 (which was not in response to the census, but just because the Republicans figured they could pick up a few more seats) as the starting point of what should be an all out redistricting war.

    All I have to say about the Illinois Gerrymander is this: Good.

  3. Southern Hoosier says:

    Another example of gerrymander in Illinois

    Minority Groups: Illinois Redistricting Maps “Unfair”

  4. TG Chicago says:

    @Joyner: so are you going to defend Hoosier’s racism again after viewing the site he just linked to?

  5. Southern Hoosier says:

    @ TG Chicago
    Yeah they do use a lot of racist news sources,

    Progress Illinois,
    Cybercast News Service (CNS)
    Rasmussen Reports
    Arizona Republic
    Answering Muslims
    Fox News Latino
    Yahoo! News
    Jihad Watch;
    News24 (South Africa)
    Miami Herald
    Courthouse News
    New York Times
    Pew Research Center;
    Daily Mail (London);
    Los Angeles Times

    @ TG Chicago
    Just because something offends you, doesn’t make it racist. And no matter how you feel about the people on, they have as much right to their opinion as you do.

  6. David M says:

    I see no reason the Democratic party shouldn’t start doing this in Cali too, seems silly to unilaterally disarm and hand the GOP an advantage.

  7. superdestoryer says:

    Image what is going to happen as the U.S. becomes a one party state, there will be so few competitive elections that the media will probably feel safe in ignoring the election season.

    In the future the only time an office will change hands is when an incumbent retires, is elected to higher office, or dies. I doubt that a felony conviction will be enough to unseat any incumbent in the future.

  8. André Kenji says:

    Gerrymandering screws up Texan voters. It´s silly to expect voters in Illinois or California to face the same fate because of Partisan advantage.