Eight weeks after the release of redistricting data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a handful of states have finished their district maps for the next decade and obtained their governor’s signature, including Republican-run Indiana and Democratic-run Illinois.

National advocates for fair redistricting and campaign finance reform pushed these two states as examples of gerrymandering on both sides of the political aisle, exemplifying the need for a nationwide set of standards enshrined in the Freedom to Vote Act.

Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director for Common Cause, ascribed gerrymandered state district maps to a “series of recent court decisions that [had] eroded the Voting Rights Act” and pandemic-related delays that shifted the timeframe for mapmakers.

“Around the country, legislatures have been engaging in partisan and racial gerrymandering, hiding their real decision-making from the public and disregarding or actively preventing public input,” Feng said.

“That’s why the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act is so critical,” she said.

“Congress needs to make clear that drawing lines to create a racial or partisan advantage has to be banned; disappearing into closed session to talk about how to manipulate the map has to made illegal; releasing them one hour before the vote only serves to undermine trust in the government, and that has to change, regardless of who is in charge.”

Feng praised the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, part of Common Cause Indiana, for creating an independent commission to hold hearings and host a mapping competition that prioritized community testimony over “party protection and incumbent protection.”

Hoosier Republicans voted down every proposed citizen map, all submitted to the legislature by Democrats. The 17-day process “was conducted largely behind closed doors with little information provided to the public,” Julia Vaughn said.

Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, said the voting act would increase transparency in Indiana and shift the focus to communities rather than legislators.

“Keeping communities of interest together was not consistent across the state and seemed to mostly depend on whether or not keeping communities intact would benefit the majority party,” Vaughn said. “Indiana is a prime example of why voters need the Freedom to Vote Act. It’s like the Wild, Wild West out here.”

In Illinois, which lost one congressional district due to population loss, Jay Young described a process with more than 60 hearings so far, with more scheduled in the coming weeks.

Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, said Democratic supermajorities in both chambers didn’t listen to the public and drew boundaries before the release of August’s data, using less refined data to estimate boundaries.

“They used a different data set, despite the fact that … we were telling them that districts that were drawn with that data would be malapportioned,” Young said. “[We and other groups] constantly came in and said, ‘We need time. We need data.’ … Time after time we were told, ‘We’ll let you know.’”

Mapmakers updated maps after the release of the August data, won the signature of Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker and now face legal challenges to their district boundaries. Critics observe that the new congressional district maps would likely mean Republicans lose two seats and Democrats gain one, shifting Illinois’ overall representation.

“[The Freedom to Vote Act] ensures that states can’t engage in the sort of partisan gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering that we see around the state,” Young said. “For states like Illinois, it will provide a clear, numerical standard to determine what partisan gerrymandering really looks like.”

Feng said the organization was considering lawsuits against 11 states but didn’t name all of them, listing Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas as possibilities.

U.S. senators introduced The Freedom to Vote Act, one of a handful of voting rights acts in Congress, in September. The bill hasn’t been called for a vote.
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