SPRINGFIELD — Eleven months before Election Day, more than half of state legislative elections may have already been decided.
Of the 158 House and Senate races in 2016, 81 currently have only one candidate. University of Illinois Springfield political science professor Kent Redfield says that’s the goal of the current’s redistricting process controlled by whatever party is in power.
“When you’re drawing partisan maps, drawing maps to create partisan advantage, you’re trying to minimize competition,” Redfield said. “You want to create really, really safe districts for the opposition party or you want to take pockets of support and fragment them.”
Redfield says the percentage of uncontested elections has grown, especially since the last legislative map was put into effect in 2012.
In the House, 31 of the 71 seats held by Democrats currently face no opposition in either the primary or general election. The same can be said for 27 of the 47 seats held by Republicans.
In the Senate, 16 of the 27 Democratic seats on next year’s ballot are currently uncontested, along with 6 of the 13 Republican-held spots for 2016. Those figures count the seat held by retiring State Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville) in the Democratic column, even though former GOP State Rep. Jil Tracy is the only candidate running to replace him.
It’s one of two cases where only one candidate filed in districts with retiring legislators. Republican Nick Sauer is the sole candidate running to replace State Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein).
It’s possible some of these 81 uncontested candidates will pick up a general election opponent if local party organizations appoint someone to the ballot, but Redfield says most will not.
“Most of the time, there’s a good reason why there isn’t somebody running in a partisan primary from a particular district, and that’s because it’s an overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican district,” Redfield said. “It’s basically a suicide mission or taking one for the team if you get on the ballot in those circumstances.”
While uncontested elections are used to support the cause of redistricting reform, Redfield cautions that changing how districts are drawn isn’t a “magic bullet” solution to create statewide competition everywhere. For example, he argues it’d be hard for Republicans to win almost any race within the city of Chicago.