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Our view: Take politics out of redistricting process

Published: Sunday, July 27, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

In this space over the past several years, we’ve been adamant supporters of taking the redistricting process out of the hands of career politicians.

Every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken, the party in power in Springfield redraws legislative and Congressional districts to its advantage, protecting its own incumbents, stifling competition and alienating voters.

Recent efforts to take redistricting powers out of the hands of politicians have fallen short. That fight must go on.

But redistricting is not just a state issue. And the political gamesmanship is not played just at the state level.

In 2011, the McHenry County Board also was tasked with redrawing boundaries for the county’s six districts. In an effort to draw a new map outside of public scrutiny, the several County Board members held a secret meeting – with members rotating in and out so there was never a majority of a quorum in the room at a given time.

At the request of the Northwest Herald, the state’s Attorney General’s Office investigated. It concluded that the secret meeting was a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. The full County Board ultimately scrapped the map that was created in secret and approved one developed in open meetings.

That brings us to the city of Marengo.

Earlier this month, Mayor Don Lockhart told the City Council that boundaries for the city’s four wards had not been redrawn since 1999, and that the city’s population has changed since then. Lockhart said that it was long since time to redraw the city’s boundaries.

But Ward 4 alderman Dennis Hammortree, a political opponent of Lockhart, accused the mayor of trying to draw him out of his home ward and threaten his re-election chances.

“I was an alderman for five years and a mayor for five years,” Hammortree said. “I know the games that are played, and that’s what’s going on here.”

To date, we’ve neither seen nor heard any evidence to suggest that Lockhart has such intentions.

But because we know such political gamesmanship happens all too frequently, and because perception can become reality regardless if there’s any truth to it, we encourage the Marengo City Council to find an independent, nonpartisan contractor or commission to help it with the redistricting process, rather than relying on city staff and the administration.

At the local, county and state level, removing the redistricting process from career politicians is the only way to assure that voters’ best interests are served.

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