Group wants to change state Constitution on redistricting

SPRINGFIELD — Another government reform group intends to try to change the way Illinois' legislative district boundaries are drawn.

Three years ago, a similar effort by a group pushing a so-called Fair Map Amendment to the Illinois Constitution stalled short of its goal of the 300,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot.

Now a group called Change Illinois! is starting out earlier, with what it contends is a broader, better-funded coalition. If the group gathers enough signatures by April, Illinois voters will consider the issue in November 2014.

As proposed, it would change the Illinois Constitution by taking the legislative mapmaking process away from legislators and putting it into the hands of a nonpartisan, independent 11-member commission.

If the group is successful, the commission would draw the Illinois House and Senate districts for the 2022 election. The constitutional change would not apply to the state's congressional districts.

An effort similar to the one proposed Wednesday in Springfield was used two years ago to draw the new county board districts in Champaign County. The product of that map is a county board divided between 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans, with Democrats representing Champaign and Urbana and Republicans serving the rest of the county.

"Just 15 percent of us believe that state government is doing the right thing most of the time. And yet if you look at what's happening electorally, last year, House incumbents had a 97 percent success rate in the general election," said Change Illinois! President Ryan Blitstein. "In two-thirds of the races, there wasn't even a challenger. And so something is going on here when the people are unhappy and yet the same legislators are winning again and again and again."

The biggest reason, he said, "is the broken redistricting process here in the state of Illinois."

Legislators helping to choose their own voters was a recurring theme of Wednesday's announcement in the Statehouse.

"If you think that the voters pick the legislative officials, you're sadly mistaken. It's just the reverse," said group Vice Chairman Peter Bensinger, whose public career began 40 years ago when he was director of Gov. Richard Ogilvie's Corrections Department. "The legislative officials that draw the maps pick the voters. As a consequence, the legislators owe their allegiance to the leaders that draw the maps, not to the voters in their districts."

The proposed amendment, which is only a draft and could be modified before the petition process begins in June, calls for creation of an 11-member commission chosen from a pool of 100 Illinoisans that would not include lobbyists or public officials. A lottery system would select the first seven commissioners — two Democrats, two Republicans and three politically unaffiliated members. Three members would come from Cook County, with one each from the state's four judicial districts. The four legislative leaders would each choose an additional commissioner from the remaining pool.

The commission would hold public hearings throughout the state, draft maps for the House and Senate and hold public hearings about the draft map.

Draft maps could also be submitted by groups or individuals, Blitstein said.

"In the end, though, the commission draws the map," he said. "But we're very open, we're very transparent. The process allows anyone to say, 'This is what the map should be,' and then they can take pieces or, if they want, pull the whole map from someone wholesale."

Current members of the Change Illinois! coalition include the Better Government Association, Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group and a number of smaller organizations.

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EL YATIRI wrote on May 16, 2013 at 7:05 am
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One of the big cheats in our "democracy":  gerrymandering.  Both parties do it, one of the reasons I refuse to vote.

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on May 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

A "nonpartisan" committee.....in Illinois?  .....if you believe that can happen, I've got a few bridges and some swamp land I'd be willing to sell you.

kyedpa5 wrote on May 16, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Why not just do what Iowa does and have a computer program design the map taking nothing into consideration except population?  It baffles my mind that they are the only state to do this.  But, then again, why would politicians, of any party, give up that power to a 100% non-bias computer process?