#668: Four Methods to See the Problem

August 3rd, 2016

Method 1: Stand on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn.

It’s the northeast tip of Federal Plaza, the gray slate breathing spot with the swooping red steel sculpture Sandy Calder convinced a nation was a flamingo.

You’re surrounded by black glass-and-steel federal buildings to your west, south and east. The squat, airy post office to the west, the Kluczynski Federal Building to your south and the Dirksen federal courthouse to your east.

The Dirksen is where convict-governors Blago, George Ryan and Otto Kerner met the law. Calder’s “Flamingo” dances across the way.

To the north, the reddish stone-steel heaviness of 1895′s Marquette Building. An early skyscraper, it taunts the airy Miesian glass towers around with its very bulk and heft. It will outlast the glass-and-steel, the Marquette’s soot-stained terra cotta seems to say. It will outlast.

Four blocks to your west, the Sears Tower still reigns above a city. Red terra cotta might last, but black glass reigns for now.

Now peer east down Adams. Down the street half a block is two stories of sign jutting from the outside of red brick. Neon cursive at the top and bottom of the sign blare “The Berghoff.” “Restaurant” is written letter by letter





the rest of the sign.

It’s Chicago’s oldest restaurant. German. Good food, although it’s gone downhill since they “closed” in 2005 and reopened a year later sans the union contracts they’ve held since forever.

Peer past the Berghoff, down another block. You’ll see the Adams/Wabash L stop. Beyond that, the Art Institute of Chicago. Wonderful museum, great collection, bit of a shady past.

You on your little street corner with the dancing red flamingo are in Illinois Representative District 6.

The Berghoff is in Illinois Representative District 5.

District 26 starts on the other side of the Art Institute and, four blocks behind you, the Sears Tower waves over it all from the safety of District 9.

From your little street corner, you can see four different districts that elect our representatives in Springfield.

Method 2: Look at the maps

Illinois Representative District 5, the one the Berghoff’s in, runs seven miles north to south and, at its thinnest point, two city blocks east to west. There’s no reason anything like this should exist in nature, no lawmaker who perfectly represents both East Chatham and the Gold Coast.

U.S. Congressional District 4 houses globs of Puerto Rican voters in Humboldt Park to the north and Mexican-American voters in Little Village to the south, but the line connecting the two isn’t the straight straight four-mile path. Instead, it shoots out from Humboldt to the suburbs, 12 miles west to Interstate 294, traveling down the unpopulated highway a skosh before trickling back through Proviso, Riverside, Berwyn and Cicero to get back to Little Village and those coveted Hispanic voters.

It was made on purpose in the early ’90s to be a Hispanic district. Either a larger voice in Congress for Chicago’s then-growing Latino population or a way to keep the Latino voters’ sway off in their own fief, depending on how cynical you want to be on a certain day.

Method 3: Grab some paper

Draw the letter D six times in random spots on a piece of paper. Now draw the letter R six times. Intersperse them. Mix them up.

Now draw a big loop around four of the Rs. It can stretch and ooze, get as amoebish as you like as long as it doesn’t break and as long as it circles all four of those Rs.

Now draw two more loops, this time having each loop contain three Ds and one R.

Congratulations. You’ve just rigged an election for the Democratic Party.

It’s called packing and cracking. Each of those loops you drew is a congressional district. You packed together a district of Republican voters with your first loop, cracked apart other GOP population centers with your other two. Your perfectly divided region, six Ds and six Rs, now elects two Democrats for every Republican.

You can and should try it again, this time rigging it for the Republicans. It’s bipartisan malfeasance, a game both parties play when they’re the ones in charge. The Dems in Illinois employ the same tricks as the Texas GOP.

Method 4: Read

It’s called gerrymandering, the drawing of political maps to benefit certain politicians. I’ve written before about gerrymandering and I likely will again. It’s an issue that hits the perfect stride of terrible problem and one easily fixed, if we try.

We let the lawmakers pick the voters who elect them. That’s the simplest way to describe this situation. We let them draw swooping ridiculous loops to hand-select the voters and demographics that will go their way.

You want your districts — state legislator, U.S. congressperson, alderman, etc. — to be equal in population. If your rural district has 100 people in it and my city district has 1,000, but we both get one congressman, your vote’s worth 10 times as much congressman as mine. That’s unconstitutional. Votes are supposed to be equal no matter who you are or where you live.

So every 10 years, we use the most recently available population information — the Census — to draw new, equally populated districts reflecting where people live now. Most other nations and 17 U.S. states have independent boards draw these maps.

Not Illinois. We let the voted pick their voters.

But we don’t have to.

The Illinois Supreme Court is currently hearing the case of an independent map referendum, a vote on the November ballot that would let us pick whether to set up an independent board. If this passes, we in Illinois can take the map-drawing powers away from the people who benefit from those maps.

A group gathered 563,000 Illinoisian’s signatures calling for the referendum (I was proudly one of those signatures), beyond the number required to get a referendum on the ballot. A Cook County court threw it out, saying the changes the referendum would ask for were beyond what a referendum can do under the Illinois Constitution.

Your task if the Illinois Supreme Court approves the referendum is to spend every political moment you’re not retweeting the latest Trump atrocity convincing your friends and family to vote for this.

Your task if the Illinois Supreme Court rejects the referendum is to start the fight to get it on the next ballot. And, if that fails, the one after that. Maybe vote for a new constitutional convention to rewrite the broken system from within, if it comes to that.

The crooked and corrupt don’t give up. They count on us giving up. In a bleeding city, our apathy is their gain.

It’s words and numbers, bits of mathiness too nerdilicious to turn into an apathy-busting rallying cry. But we need this change, need the voted not to pick the voters.

So when your resolve starts to flag, read an article, grab that sheet of paper, load up those maps or take lunch on the corner north of the Calder flamingo. See the problem with your own eyes, get angry and fight.

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Learn how gerrymandering directly rigs certain races

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