Independent Map Group Files Constitutional Amendment for November Ballot

An Illinois constitutional amendment that would create an independent commission to redraw legislative districts every 10 years is one step closer to November’s election ballot. The group Independent Maps, which is made up of civic and business leaders across the state, delivered petitions with 570,000 signatures to the state capitol in Springfield on Friday. That’s more than twice the 290,216 valid signatures that it takes to amend the constitution via a citizen-led petition process. 

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The group compiled the extra signatures to ensure they would have enough remaining if attorneys decide to challenge the validity of the signatures in front of the Illinois Board of Elections.

Under the proposal, the Illinois auditor general would select a commission of 11 members, from all political stripes, to redraw the maps every 10 years.

“Illinois voters are demanding reform, and the Independent Map Amendment is their best opportunity to change business as usual at the state capitol,” said Dennis FitzSimons, chairman of the nonpartisan Independent Maps coalition. “Today, legislators are in charge of drawing the boundaries of their legislative districts. After this amendment becomes law, those maps will be drawn by an independent commission consisting of a diverse group of citizens from all areas of the state, and they will be mandated to draw maps that protect minority voting interests and without favoring any political party.”

Both the Illinois House and Senate passed their own measures to change the process of redistricting, but those efforts did not ultimately make it out of the full General Assembly. The Independent Maps group says those proposals would not have gone far enough.

“The two other proposals don’t create as independent a system. One proposal is saying that the state supreme court would appoint an eight person commission,” said Independent Maps campaign manager Dave Mellet. “The other proposal coming from the Senate wouldn’t be independent of politics at all. It would still be politicians that draw the maps.”

The amendment faces a few legal hurdles. A group called the Peoples Map, which is made up of members like retired ComEd CEO and current CPS Board chairman Frank Clark and the Rev. Leon Finney Jr., opposes the initiative. They say that creating an independent commission to redraw maps every 10 years would hurt the representation of minorities in government.

A similar initiative failed to make the ballot two years ago after it was challenged in court by forces connected to powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who would stand to lose the most from an independent map commission. The initiative was struck down by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva. At issue was a provision in the amendment that would have banned redistricting commission members from running for elected office for 10 years after serving on the commission. Mikva said that it went beyond the scope of what a citizen-led constitutional amendment can do by changing the “structure and procedure” of the Illinois General Assembly.

But Mikva, in her ruling, left the door open for another effort, saying that a “differently drafted redistricting effort could be constitutional.” The Independent Maps group removed the unconstitutional provision from this year’s effort and said they are confident their plan falls in line with what Judge Mikva allowed for. Still, many lawmakers are skeptical. State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) says he supports the effort but doesn’t ultimately think it can be legal.

If the Independent Maps amendment makes it to the ballot, it would need to be approved by 60 percent of voters who vote on the question. The Independent Maps group says they fully expect a legal challenge to keep their initiative off of November’s ballot and that they are ready to take the issue to the public.

“Next up will be a statewide education campaign to inform voters about the need for impartial redistricting and why they should support adoption of the Independent Map Amendment,” FitzSimons said. “But as you can see from the estimated 1,800 pounds of petitions, voters are eager to make this reform a reality. They are tired of voting in uncontested elections where only one candidate is on the ballot in a district where the outcome is predetermined by the politicians drawing the maps.”

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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