Sunday Extra: State impedes citizens seeking remap reform

Sunday Extra: State impedes citizens seeking remap reform

By Barbara Wysocki

Jubilation reigns — at least temporarily — in some quarters of Illinois. Last month, the Illinois State Board of Elections confirmed that the Independent Map organization had met the threshold of required valid signatures to move the redistricting proposal to the November ballot.

Beyond euphoria, however, is a deeper civics lesson. Our Constitution guarantees us the right to petition our government. In Illinois, however, legislators believe it necessary to impose absurd obstacles should we dare to try to exercise our right of petition, especially when it threatens business as usual in our General Assembly. Legislators are abusing lawmaking powers to interfere with citizens who are seriously demanding reform of their government.

Consider the work citizens did to deliver 65,261 separate redistricting petitions to the Illinois State Board of Elections. To meet the legislative specifications that petitions be "bound continuously and consecutively," the petitions had to be submitted in a container 36 feet long, weighing nearly a ton.

Never mind the organized effort of the Independent Map group. Never mind the persistent efforts of circulators, or the determination of almost 600,000 citizens — over half a million legally qualified citizens — who cared enough to sign the petition for consideration by all of us in November.

Never mind the absurd cost, size and inconvenience of the actual delivery — a specially constructed 2,000-pound metal box the length of a telephone pole, costing $3,000. (Transportation and workers were extra.) The unloading process made for a great photo op, but does such a spectacle inspire civic engagement?

In effect, the Legislature's regulations silence us citizens. It's the legislators' effort to keep us at arm's length. It's a way to discourage us from exercising a basic constitutional right — for who, in their right mind, could imagine spending time and energy trying to maneuver an oversized container into a building hardly able to accommodate its length?

And delivery is just the first obstacle to reform.

Now there's a pending lawsuit that challenges the legality of the proposed amendment. Opponents are hoping that the courts will do what the encumbering prescriptions of the law couldn't — bury the proposal — and relieve lawmakers of the need to undertake redistricting's reform. In fact, Speaker Michael Madigan has been careful to cloak his opposition to citizen action by having surrogates file the case.

In Illinois and in the entire U.S., we citizens are the source and inspiration of our government. The whole purpose of proposing constitutional amendments is to encourage orderly discussion among ourselves about better ways for us to govern ourselves. We shouldn't tolerate a ridiculous process that prevents us from grieving an injustice.

Thanks to the First Amendment, we have the right to petition, but the Legislature, it seems, has reserved for itself the right to make petitioning as difficult as possible.

Barbara Wysocki of Urbana is president of the League of Women Voters of Champaign County.

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Sunday Extra: This weekly feature is similar to a Letter to the Editor, with this difference: writers have more room - 250 to 500 words. Preference will be given to timely topics, fresh perspectives and quality writing. How to submit: by email to news@news-gazette.com. Please put "Sunday Extra" in the subject line. Questions? Contact Dan Corkery at 217-351-5218 or dcorkery@news-gazette.com.