CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign-Urbana and Peoria areas are the downstate hotspots for the Yes for Independent Maps group that is attempting to set up an independent, transparent legislative redistricting system in Illinois.
"Right now they are leading the way," campaign manager Michael Kolenc told a group of about 30 people at a League of Women Voters meeting Tuesday night at the Champaign Public Library.
"We track where all our signatures are coming from and right now Champaign and Peoria are our top two areas in the state," Kolenc said.
He said that "several thousand" petition signatures calling for a vote on a state constitutional amendment have come from Champaign County.
The effort to change the way state legislative district maps are drawn needs petitions with more than 300,000 valid signatures in order to get on the November general election ballot.
"We're doing really well statewide. We're well on target to reach our goal by the May 4th deadline," Kolenc said. "We feel very, very good about things right now."
Barbara Wysocki, president of the League of Women Voters of Champaign County, said she is passing petitions on behalf of the issue and has gathered close to 150 signatures.
"I realize that while I approach people with a prepared pitch I rarely get through it because they know about it, and they're eager to sign. They're often, 'Here, just let me sign it.'
"I think people see it immediately as something of an antidote to our governmental structure in Ilinois right now. It's like they're saying, 'We've got to try something. We've got to do something.' I get a lot of that."
Most everyone she's approached signs right away, she said.
"I was at Barnes and Noble in their cafe, and somebody approached me about this and soon everybody surrounding me was listening in and said, 'Well, I want to sign too.' It was amazing. I think I got 10 signatures when I was really looking for one."
The statewide campaign raised nearly $500,000 in the period between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2013, according to records at the State Board of Elections. Most of the donations came from the Chicago area.
"We've been very clear from the beginning that we can't do this with volunteers alone," Kolenc said. "We need a lot of paid staff, so on any given day in Chicago we could have 30 or 40 paid organizers out on the streets collecting signatures. That will be how we collect the majority of our signatures."
Donors to the campaign include Democrats and Republicans.
"From the beginning we've said that this is a bipartisan effort, and that is more than a talking point. Our list of supporters demonstrates that this is a bipartisan campaign," Kolenc said.