SPRINGFIELD (The Center Square) — A group of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and several advocacy groups is turning up the pressure on the Illinois Legislature to pass an amendment to allow voters to change how legislative districts are drawn in Illinois.
The goal is to prevent gerrymandering of the state’s political boundaries. In Illinois, politicians control how legislative boundaries are drawn every ten years. This type of redistricting has been criticized as politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their politicians.
In previous elections, some have blamed Illinois’ uncompetitive legislative maps for large numbers uncontested statehouse races. For the March primary, 54 out of 118 Illinois state representatives seats are uncontested. Twelve of the 20 state senate seats up for reelection won’t face opposition from the other party.
A citizen-led effort to change how Illinois draws its political boundaries several years ago got more than half a million signatures but was blocked in the courts after it was challenged by a law firm with connections to House Speaker Michael Madigan.
On Thursday, Madeleine Doubek from Change Illinois was joined by several other groups and a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers. She said May 3 is the deadline for lawmakers to pass an updated proposed amendment.
The updated proposal includes changes from previous plans, Doubek said, such as choosing map drawing commissioners from congressional districts.
“We’ve also loosened up the parameters for who can serve [on the commission] and upped the number of commissioners to 17 with eleven needed to approve maps,” Doubek said. “What that means is that no one group can control the map-making process.”
With the 2020 Census set to begin soon, she said this is the year the measure must pass.
“The time for an end to gerrymandering is now so that we’re not saddled with another ten years of maps that stifle competition and suppress voters’ choices,” Doubek said.
Other groups that have signed on to support the new proposals filed in both the House and Senate include the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Illinois, along with groups such as the Illinois Farm Bureau, AARP, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen others.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said the way the maps are drawn now with the majority party controlling where the lines go breeds toxic politics.
“It only pushes incumbents to adopt an extremist political manifesto in an attempt to hold on to that seat,” Bush said. “Democrats become more liberal and Republicans more conservative and we lose any chance to a healthy balance between the two extremes.”
Amid ongoing Federal corruption probes involving state lawmakers, state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said an independent commission is needed to combat self-interested politicians.
“So if you want to root out corruption in this state, this is the place we need to start,” he said.
McConchie’s office said Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18 included the following provisions:
- Establishes an independent, 17-member commission appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court, that is charged with drawing the Congressional and General Assembly maps.
- Seven commission members will be nominated from each political party (can’t be a sitting elected official or their employees) and three commission members will not be affiliated with either political party.
- Allows the public to provide comment and submit maps during the map-drawing process for consideration by the Commission. The Commission is required to review all submissions.
House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 41 is similar.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he would veto any map he deemed unfair. Republicans have said that was too subjective. Bush said Thursday she plans to meet with the governor to discuss the amendment in hopes of bringing him on board.
A rally in support of the idea is being planned for March 26 at the capitol in Springfield.
Reporting by Greg Bishop