Group submits signatures for Illinois redistricting amendment

Billy Kobin, Reporter

A nonpartisan Illinois citizens group submitted 65,000 pages of signatures to the Illinois State Board of Elections earlier this month for a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to change redistricting procedures in light of the coming November elections.

Independent Maps — a statewide coalition composed of volunteers and state business, philanthropic, religious and political groups — collected and delivered more than 570,000 signatures to the election board’s Springfield office on May 6. The petitions call for an amendment to be placed on state ballots for a vote this November. The amendment would take the power of redrawing state legislative districts away from legislators and give it to an independent commission.

Jim Bray, an Independent Maps spokesman, said the current method of redistricting in Illinois is “not healthy for representative democracy,” as it allows the political party in power to ensure district lines protect its legislators in elections.

“There’s a conflict of interest for (legislators) because they’re drawing maps that will benefit them or punish the people that are not in power,” Bray said. “It means that they really are picking the voters they want to be in their districts (and) who will send them back to Springfield.”

The constitutional amendment would create an independent 11-member commission, Bray said. Citizens would nominate themselves for seven positions, and the state auditor general would review the applicant pool to see which citizens are eligible to redraw districts before randomly picking the seven citizens from a final pool of 100.

Bray said the chosen citizens would come from all areas of Illinois and from each political party. He said the remaining four positions would be selected by the four legislative leaders of the state General Assembly — the minority and majority leaders in both the State House of Representatives and State Senate. Once formed, he said the commission would hold public hearings throughout the state on the process of redrawing districts.

“The amendment specifies a criteria that they have to follow to draw the maps so that (maps) aren’t intentionally partisan and (maps) protect minority voter rights,” Bray said.

Bray said the commission would eventually create drafts of district maps and have public hearings on the drafts. With the support of at least two Democrats and two Republicans on the commission, the commission would adopt a final map to present to the State House and Senate for approval.The acceptance from commission members of the two major political parties would ensure the final map has bipartisan support, Bray said.

A lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday challenging the amendment proposal. Michael Kasper, general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party, filed the lawsuit, which claims the proposal doesn’t follow the rules under which citizens can amend the state constitution.

Kasper successfully challenged the group’s previous attempt at a similar constitutional amendment in 2014.

Evanston is part of the 7th and 9th State Senate districts and 14th, 17th and 18th State House districts. Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) could not be reached for comment.

The State Board of Elections is now reviewing the signatures to make sure there are enough eligible signatures to qualify the amendment for the ballot, Bray said, adding that Independent Maps is required by the state to have approximately 290,000 valid petition signatures.

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