June 27 wasn’t a good day for democracy.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s just fine with partisan gerrymandering.
In fact, in its 5-4 decision, the court went so far as to say that federal courts have no business intervening if Republicans or Democrats unfairly draw legislative boundaries.
It doesn’t get any more boneheaded than that.
After all, more often than not, when we step into the voting booth, we have no choice in candidates.
In 2016, I asked Ballotpedia to analyze 2016 Illinois election filing data. The organization found that in 67 percent of Illinois legislative districts the candidate, usually an incumbent, was unopposed.
Yes, you read that right. More than two-thirds of the time, voters have only one legislative candidate to “choose” from. And in the remaining one-third of districts, the opposition is usually nominal.
Candidates don’t run because they know a person of their political party can’t win in the district where they live.
In Illinois, this process of gerrymandering benefits Democrats. On the federal level, it tends to benefit Republicans.
But, the group that most certainly doesn’t benefit is voters.
Gerrymandering is almost as old as the republic itself. Once upon a time, politicians would sit in smoke-filled rooms with pencils and maps to draw boundaries to their advantage.
But, now the process is far more sophisticated with computer programs using complex mathematical formulas and personal data on individual voters to predict voting behavior.
“Now, you can essentially program an algorithm and have it produce 3,000 different maps in a matter of minutes, and you can learn so much about someone with it on the internet. You can get down to the block level and figure out someone’s voting patterns over the years,” said Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, a group that advocates for non-partisan maps in the Land of Lincoln.
As Republicans captured state legislatures around the country, they have been the primary beneficiaries. Aided by sophisticated software, they have drawn oddly shaped voting districts to favor their party’s candidates.
For example, after the 2010 census, Republicans drew the map in North Carolina. Even though the popular vote is nearly evenly divided between the two political parties, Republicans hold 10 of state’s 13 Congressional seats.
In Illinois, the story is much the same, but the Democrats have drawn the legislative districts to their advantage. Doubek said that even though there is strong support for non-partisan maps among rank-and-file lawmakers, legislative leaders such as House Speaker Mike Madigan will determine whether the reforms are ever voted on.
It’s a tough sell. After all, Madigan is a master of the dark art of drawing legislative district boundaries to ensure that he hangs onto a Democratic majority in the House—and his hold on power.
For decades, he and his minions have drawn legislative districts so craftily that in most races it’s a foregone conclusion as to which party will represent a given area.
When districts are drawn in that manner, lawmakers shift their allegiances from the voters to the mapmaker. That’s not good for a democracy.
Accountability to the voters is supposed to be the cornerstone of our system of government. With Supreme Court decisions such as this recent ruling, our society suffers.
After all, in a democracy, voters should decide.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. He can be contacted at email@example.com.