Effort takes aim at Illinois redistricting

Effort takes aim at Illinois redistricting

CHICAGO — Another campaign to reform the way Illinois draws its legislative district maps formally kicked off Wednesday, and organizers are looking for help in East Central Illinois.

As proposed, the reforms 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 in getting the measure on the ballot and passing it in November 2014, 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.

Information about the new group — known as Yes for Independent Maps — and the language of its proposed 1,500-word amendment to the Constitution is available at http://independentmaps.org/.

Michael Kolenc, a former aide to Sen. Dick Durbin who recently ran a statewide ballot campaign in Maryland, has been hired to run the Yes for Independent Maps effort.

The group doesn't have a campaign coordinator in the Champaign-Urbana area, he said.

"Not yet, this is day one," Kolenc said. "We launched the website, we're going to be doing some petition gathering in downtown Chicago (Wednesday). We're really just starting this journey. In the next 300 days we will have people downstate working on this.

"Right now I'm directing people who want to get involved in the campaign to go to independentmaps.org. If they sign up with the campaign we'll get in contact with them and we'll figure out how they want to get involved. Whether it's talking to groups or circulating petitions or whatever," said Kolenc.

The language of the proposed constitutional has been revised since it was unveiled this spring, said Ryan Blitstein, president and CEO of CHANGE Illinois!, one of the groups in a coalition supporting the effort.

"The main change is a really significant increase in the amount of transparency," he said. "Before, the language wasn't as strong and detailed about all meetings being open and all records being open. And it says that the commission must do town hall meetings and talk to people both before the draft and after any draft map."

Many of the language suggestions came from people at town hall meetings this spring, Blitstein said.

"Another change, after doing significant research about what happened in California and other states, we slightly increased the amount of time the commission has to do its work in order to make sure they can actually get it done. It's now essentially a one-year process from the time the commission is selected to doing the mapping process," he said.

Blitstein acknowledged that Illinoisans wouldn't see the results of their 2014 vote until the redistricting process begins after the 2020 Census.

"It would not affect elections or redistricting until 2021, but, that said, as we've seen in other states, initiatives like this send an immediate signal down to the state capital that the people want change and the people mean business," he said. "In addition, the moment this law passes there will be planning done by state government and public interest groups to start thinking about what this will look like, how to interpret the amendment to the Constitution."

The coalition of supporters behind the Yes for Independent Maps group includes CHANGE Illinois!, Common Cause Illinois, Reboot Illinois, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, the Latino Policy Forum and Metropolis Strategies.

The campaign hopes to collect more than 298,000 signatures from registered voters by May 4, 2014, to place an initiative on the November 2014 ballot.

The new group filed as a campaign committee last week and will have its own finance and leadership committee.

Kolenc, the campaign manager, said he hopes to add more groups to the coalition.

A similar effort in 2010 to promote what was then called a Fair Map Amendment fell short of its 300,000-signature goal. Members of the coalition pushing that amendment included the Illinois Farm Bureau and the League of Women Voters.

"I anticipate this being a very large coalition with Republicans and Democrats and independents, downstaters and people representing all parts of Illinois. We're working to reach out to a multitude of organizations including the League and the Farm Bureau," Kolenc said.

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