November 2, 2021

By Adam DuBard, Political Analyst, Graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

With the publication of the 2020 census results, states around the country began the redistricting process, which takes place every decade after each census. Here at RepresentUS, we’ve been documenting the failure of states to draw competitive, democratic, districts in states including Ohio, Texas, and New York.

Unfortunately for American voters, another state has joined in the race to gerrymander its districts as advantageously as possible – Illinois. The fact that both Illinois and New York are governed by Democrats highlights that gerrymandering, often discussed as primarily a tactic used by Republicans, is a growing bipartisan issue.

Illinois’ current House delegation is made up of 13 Democrats and 5 Republicans. However, the 2020 census found that Illinois actually lost population for the first time since 1818, meaning that Illinois’ number of House representatives will drop from 18 to 17. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the newly approved map will most likely increase the Democratic majority, with a likely result of 14 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

This map has angered both Democrats and Republicans among Illinois’ current delegation. In the new map, Marie Newman, a freshman House representative who defeated Democratic incumbent Dan Lipinski in the 2020 primary, has had her district combined with fellow Democrat Jesús “Chuy” García into a majority Latino district. Meanwhile, Republican Adam Kinzinger, a prominent Trump critic who voted to impeach him earlier this year, has been lumped in with fellow Republicans Darin LaHood, Mary Miller, and Mike Bost. 

The updated map based on the 2020 census for District 3 in Illinois.

The updated map based on the 2020 census for District 16 in Illinois.

Newman recently indicated she intends to run against fellow Democrat Sean Casten in Rep. Casten’s new district, saying “The lion’s share of this new district is made up of the communities and residents I represent today and I look forward to continuing to serve them in Congress.”

Kinzinger meanwhile has announced his intention to retire from the House following the approval of Illinois’ new Congressional map, saying “There’s little to no desire to bridge our differences, and unity is no longer a word we use. It has also become increasingly obvious that in order to break the narrative, I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide.”

Like the other states highlighted by RepresentUs in recent weeks, the Illinois map received an “F” overall from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Although the map received a “C” for competitiveness in the first draft of the new congressional districts, the second draft received an “F” for all three measures: competitiveness, partisan fairness and geographic features. The partisan fairness metric found that the map contains a significant Democratic advantage, with non-compact districts that split up counties and have bizarre boundaries. As for the competitiveness factor, the map was found to be “Very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn.”

Ultimately, gerrymandering means that American voters have less choice and less say in who represents them in Congress. The ability of Americans to vote and elect the representatives who advocate for their interests in Congress is the basis for a healthy and functioning democracy. However, the vast majority of Americans live in districts that are uncompetitive, meaning that elections are often already decided before they even vote.

As Jillian Baker writes, gerrymandering is only getting worse due to the technologies available to politicians on both sides of the aisle, which will create more safe districts for both Democrats and Republicans, eliminating the need for politicians to appeal to voters on the issues.

House districts in America have become increasingly less competitive over the years. According to FiveThirtyEight, after the 1996 presidential election there were 164 districts with a partisan lean of 10 percentage points or less. After 2016, that number had dropped to 72.

As it stands today, less than 20% of Congressional elections featured a competitive race in 2020. Ballotpedia notes that only 89 races in the 2020 Senate and House elections had a margin of victory of 10% or less, with only 42 races featuring margins of 5% or lower. That comes out to less than 19% of races with a margin of 10% or lower! Ultimately, the American people are starved of political choices, making it that much harder for us to hold our elected officials accountable.

How can we fight gerrymandering and partisan gridlock?

However, all is not lost. There have been notable victories for voting rights in recent years, from the State Supreme Court in Pennsylvania overturning partisan districts, to a similar ruling in North Carolina, to the restoration of voting rights to felons in Florida. But we have so much further to go!

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would have ended gerrymandering, among other initiatives that would ensure free and fair elections for all Americans. But with the bill stalled, anti-corruption organizations like RepresentUs will continue to support federal reform while redoubling our efforts to fight gerrymandering and protect our elections at the local and state level ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.