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While federal elections tend to take the spotlight at the ballot box, local elections — such as state legislature — are of equal, if not greater importance. Especially coming off of a census year, the elections for state legislatures are even more important as redistricting enters the scene again.
Gerrymandering — a diabolical form of redistricting done to favor one political party over another — is still a major issue in politics, but it doesn’t have to be.
Every state has its own redistricting procedures. Illinois, along with 36 other states, uses its state legislatures to draw the boundaries — but some states use independent redistricting bodies, or a combination of the two.
No matter what method gets used, the gist is the same.
Every ten years, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the federal government conducts a census. Besides collecting demographic data of who lives here, Congress uses it to reapportion representation in the House of Representatives. With the number of representatives capped at 435, census data gets used to determine if some states gain or lose seats in Congress.
The same census data is given to states — in the case of Illinois, to its state legislature — to help redraw electoral districts, or even carve out a new one if that state gets apportioned one. The data from this most recent 2020 Census is set to arrive sometime after April 1.
On paper, redistricting doesn’t sound like it could be so flawed — if only gerrymandering weren’t a thing. It results in crudely drawn districts which ensure a favored political party will prevail, putting them at an advantage.
Large urban centers get split up and tossed into mostly rural districts, diluting the vote of those in the city. Sometimes it’s done not to favor a political party, but to give incumbent politicians solid footing in reelection.
The shape of these redrawn districts can be kind of funny. Take a look at Texas’ second district — which spirals out of Houston and wraps around the city.
A quick search on the internet turns up a plethora of games where you can even try gerrymandering yourself.
See the connection?
Being knowledgeable about local elections — and more importantly, voting in them — can be used as a tool to stop gerrymandering. If we voted for the state legislature the way we voted for president, we can elect politicians who’ll affect meaningful change and prevent gerrymandering.
The next elections aren’t for another two years, but it’s never too early to start preparing. So the next time you want to participate in the great U.S. political experiment, pay close attention to the elections closest to your home.