Testimony of Gavin Johnson, former Leadership6 Intern, Common Cause Illinois Before the Senate Committee on Redistricting March 30, 2021

Hello, I would first like to thank Chair Aquino, Vice-Chair Sims, and Minority Spokesperson Barickman for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Gavin Johnson. I am from Charleston, Illinois. Charleston is a small, rural college town. We are home to Eastern Illinois University, and there is a significant agricultural presence in my community. I am a junior at Charleston High School, and I interned for Common Cause Illinois this last summer. During my internship, I worked on the issue of Gerrymandering and Representation. I called hundreds of people and encouraged them to fill out the census. I made social media posts to further make the public aware of the importance of the Census, and I worked on plans to reach out to HTC communities. I and other Common Cause Illinois Interns worked to increase Census responses, because we understood the importance that the Census had on ensuring fair representation. I am here today to testify about the importance of engaging the public, especially the youth, in this process.

Redistricting should be a very open process and the public should have a say in how they are represented in the government. This committee should work hard to ensure that people are aware of how they can voice their opinion to their elected officials. I, for one, had no idea about the opportunity to give testimony about this important issue until someone from Common Cause Illinois informed me about this. Most people do not know about these committee hearings unless they are somehow tied into the process already. Even if someone did find out about these hearings, it would be a difficult process to find and fill out all the necessary forms to give a testimony. In addition, the timing of this committee, at 3pm on a Tuesday, discourages most working people from attending. This is not how this redistricting committee should go about collecting public input. So far, there has been little representation. We need public input from not only non-profit organizations, but also individuals.

To solve this issue, this committee has proposed a plan to allow community members to draw their own maps to be used as input. However, this plan is unclear. For one, no one knows how this data will be used, and this tool has not been adequately distributed. This tool should have been released long ago, and these meetings made more accessible for community members. We also need to engage the youth in this process. The decisions made now will affect them for years to come. This committee could work on educating the youth by, for example, releasing the map making tool and having students in civic classes create fair maps to be used as input in the decision making process. We could work together to make this a learning opportunity of how fair maps should be drawn.

However, this process remains very partisan. I understand that both parties are aiming for certain dates to guarantee their power in the decision making process, but this process should not be partisan. In an ideal situation, we would have an independent citizen redistricting committee. California did this in 2011 and they had significant community input with testimony from 2,700 people. The current system in Illinois allows for politicians to choose who they will represent. This is not how democracy is supposed to work. 

The way that districts are drawn will affect Illinoisans for years to come. This committee must ensure that people’s voices can be heard and fair maps can be drawn.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I would be happy to answer any questions.