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Voting Rights Attorney Talks Impact Of Gerrymandering

Ruth Greenwood
Campaign Legal Center

Every 10 years, the majority party in each state redraws district lines. Parties often pack or crack districts to allow them a majority of votes, a process known as gerrymandering.

Ruth Greenwood is senior legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit aimed at holding government accountable. She will speak at a League of Women Voters of McLean County event Tuesday night.

Greenwood said gerrymandering is often done in private, closed-door sessions, which does not allow for public input or oversight. But that’s not the main issue, she said.

“The ongoing and bigger harm is that all of the policies that you may want to enact depend upon the legislature accurately representing the people,” she said. “And so you have these situations where you have more people voting for one party, but the other party gets elected in higher numbers.”

Gerrymandering makes it difficult to get a legislature elected that actually reflects the people, she said, and without that, it’s not possible to craft legislation the people actually support.

“In Illinois, the problem here isn’t so much that there aren’t—there are more people voting for Democratic candidates in the statehouse, but there are not as many as the seats that they end up getting,” Greenwood said. “So you end up getting close towards, at some parts, this decade of having veto-proof majorities, which means Democrats can just go ahead and just do whatever they like, regardless of a Republican governor, for example.”

Credit Illinois General Assembly
Approved 2011 Illinois Legislative District map.

Greenwood also pointed to the growing number of uncontested district races in Illinois as a way gerrymandering has marginalized candidates and voters by keeping the incumbent party “safe.”

She said there is “some evidence” to support the idea that gerrymandering can create more polarized, or extreme, political parties, but there are other contributing factors, like the primary election process.

Greenwood is speaking about gerrymandering and marginalized voters at a League of Women Voters of McLean County event at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Normal Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.

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