Updated: Group on redistricting has almost 350,000 signatures

Updated: Group on redistricting has almost 350,000 signatures

CHICAGO — Organizers of the statewide campaign to change the way Illinois legislative district boundaries are drawn say they already have collected nearly 350,000 petition signatures and are on their way toward having 450,000 or more by the middle of this month.

The Yes for Independent Maps group needs a minimum of 298,000 valid signatures to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot.

"We're right on track to reach our goal by mid-April, which is what we've been saying all along," said Michael Kolenc, campaign manager for the bipartisan effort. "We're very happy with the support that we're getting across the state. But this isn't over and we're still actively collecting signatures every day, trying to get everything back by April 18."

The group announced Tuesday morning that it had gathered 346,759 signatures on petitions to change the Illinois Constitution so that the once-every-10-years process of redrawing legislative maps would be taken out of the hands of state legislators and put into the hands of an 11-member independent commission.

Barbara Wysocki, the president of the League of Women Voters of Champaign County and one of the leaders of the petition drive locally, said she was "very happy" about the success of the campaign.

"This has been absolutely been amazing," Wysocki said. "We're still pushing. I've got to visit a Lions Club (in Savoy) on April 15, which is the day they want (the petitions sent back) and postmarked. Normally when I go and speak to groups I've taken blanks and encouraged people to go out and get some signatures. Obviously I can't do that then but if there is anyone in the group who hasn't signed they can still do it that day."

Local organizers also will be at the office of the Beckett & Webber law firm, 508 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, at 10 a.m. Saturday to notarize and gather petitions sheets and to take any more signatures on the petitions.

Wysocki said she has "easily" gathered 50 sheets of petitions (with 15 signatures to a page) since the campaign began.

"And I know of at last 20 League members who have turned in at least three full petition sheets," she said. "I need a breather. If the winter hadn't been so rough I think I would feel more energetic at this point but I'm pretty worn out from this thing.

"I keep running into people and asking them to sign and they tell me that they signed it four months ago. That's a bad sign."

Once the petitions are submitted to the State Board of Elections, the second phase of the campaign — fighting anticipated legal challenges to the petitions and to the language of the proposed amendment — will begin, said Kolenc.

He said the organization already has a group reviewing the petitions submitted.

"We have a team of folks that are looking at all of the petitions and are doing random sample of petitions to check our validity rate. We are scrubbing our list as we go along," he said. "That's why were collecting more than the 298,000 signatures we actually need."

In addition to gathering and reviewing the signatures, Yes for Independent Maps has had an aggressive fundraising team that has raised at least $2.52 million, according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. Earlier this week the group reported a $500,000 contribution from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vast majority of the group's fundraising success has been in the Chicago area: $1.2 million from residents of the city, almost $285,000 from residences in Lake Forest, $53,500 from Wilmette addresses and $48,000 from Evanston.

Locally, the group has received $1,000 from Habeeb Habeeb of Champaign and Trent Shepard of Urbana.

"This is a pretty robust statewide campaign. We have a fundraising team that works 100 percent on raising the funds that the campaign has determined we need to secure signatures and to win on election day," Kolenc said.

Wysocki said she was surprised by the amounts raised so far.

"It's one thing to run a campaign on passion and energy, but it's another thing to know that you have bucks behind you," she said.

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