A new campaign hopes to change the method by which legislative districts are drawn.
The Board of Directors of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce voted to endorse the efforts of the Yes for Independent Maps campaign in its quest to place a Constitutional Amendment on the November 2014 ballot to change the method by which legislative districts are drawn. The Illinois Chamber fully supports the work of this campaign and will put its full weight behind the effort to achieve this fundamental change to Illinois elections.
The adoption of this Amendment would represent the most dramatic action the citizens of Illinois could take towards fundamental change to shake up the status quo in state government. Establishing an independent process for drawing legislative maps will diminish the influence of party “power brokers,” yield more competitive elections, and produce boundaries that the average citizen would acknowledge as more sensible than those we have seen from the professional politicians.
When remarking on the process by which district boundaries are drawn, pundits often say that voters do not choose their state house representation, but rather the elected officials and party leaders choose their voters. The case for this observation was clearly demonstrated when new district lines were drawn following the 2010 census and prior to the 2012 elections.
The facts are compelling. The results of the 2012 election showed incumbents in the Illinois House of Representatives won 97 percent of the general election races. Two-thirds of incumbents seeking re-election to the House of Representatives did not even face a challenger in the general election. Thirty of 59 State Senate offices had no opposition listed on the general election ballot. Conversely, 65 of 118 State Representative offices had no opposition listed on the general election ballot. So, 95 of 177 Illinois legislators were guaranteed uncontested campaigns once they got past the March primaries.
The current redistricting process in Illinois is closed, secretive, partisan and designed to protect both incumbent officeholders and the dominant political party in power when redistricting occurs each decade. The Constitutional Amendment that is being offered would change that.
What is required to place a citizen initiative on the ballot?
In order to gain the approval of the State Board of Elections to certify the validity of the citizen-initiated referendum, the organization must secure 298,000 valid signatures from registered Illinois voters. The organization must file its “Petition for a Constitutional Amendment” no later than May 4, 2014.
What Is Yes for Independent Maps?
Yes for Independent Maps is a diverse, nonpartisan, statewide organization working to place a redistricting measure on the November 2014 ballot. The organization has launched a campaign to gain the necessary signatures, secure endorsements, recruit supporters, communicate with the media and the public, seek volunteers, and raise the funds necessary to put the Constitutional Amendment on the ballot.
Yes for Independent Maps will pursue the typical process for gaining ballot approval as it is done in other states. It’s estimated that in order to secure 298,000 valid signatures, the group will attempt to gather 600,000 signatures. The campaign is expected to cost approximately $2 million just to get the question on the ballot. The financing, organization and promotion of a Yes-Vote campaign will come later.
What are the details of the Amendment?
The Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment was written with input from voters across the state. Its drafters paid close attention to the needs and desires of average citizens, as well as the counsel of legal and policy experts, and the successful redistricting reforms in California in 2008 and Florida in 2010.
The Amendment would establish an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative maps. The amendment would not affect Illinois’ Congressional district or local maps. The new process builds on the most effective, fair redistricting systems now working in other states (Arizona, California, New Jersey, Iowa and Florida), adapted to the legal requirements of Illinois.
Under the proposed amendment, the independent commission would draw district boundaries using the following criteria:
- Contiguous, substantially equal in population, and in compliance with federal laws
- Not drawn to dilute or diminish the ability of a racial or language minority community to elect the candidates of its choice
- Respecting the geographic integrity of cities, towns and other units of local government
- Respecting the geographic integrity of communities sharing common social and economic interests
- Not drawn to purposefully or significantly discriminate against or favor any political party or group, and not considering the residence of any person.
The commission would hold public hearings throughout the state, both before and after it releases its draft maps. The process would be extraordinarily transparent: all commission records and communications among commissioners will be open for public inspection, and all commission meetings will be open to the public and publicly noticed at least two days ahead of time.
In order to approve any plan, seven of the commission’s 11 members must vote for it—including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members. No legislative action will be needed once the Commission approves a map.
How will commission members be selected?
Commission members would be selected through the following five-step process:
- Application. Any interested Illinois citizen can apply to be a member of the commission.
- Qualification. A nonpartisan Applicant Review Panel, appointed by the Auditor General, eliminates applicants with conflicts of interest, such as lobbyists and public officials. The panel selects the 100 most qualified applicants on the basis of analytical skills, impartiality, fairness and diversity.
- Removal. In a process similar to jury selection, the four top legislative leaders may each “strike” up to five applicants from the applicant pool.
- Selection. Commissioners are selected by lottery to create a group of two Democrats, two Republicans and three unaffiliated with either party, all proportionally representing Illinois’ five Supreme Court districts.
- Appointment. The four top legislative leaders each appoint one commissioner from the remaining pool, to ensure the commission reflects Illinois’s diverse demographics and geography.
What can I do?
First, volunteer to pass the petitions. The single most important thing anyone can do to play a part in reforming Illinois elections and state government is to start collecting petition signatures now. Email [email protected] or go to IndependentMaps.org and sign up to help. The campaign will send you petitions and instructions. All Illinois registered voters are eligible to add their voice to this important effort.
Once you have obtained petitions, carry them with you to gather signatures from family members, friends and co-workers. We encourage you to carry the petition around your neighborhood to gather signatures. If you own or operate a retail establishment, consider placing the petition where customers can sign it.
Second, make a financial contribution. You can make an online contribution to help finance the campaign by visiting Independentmaps.org. You can mail a contribution to: Yes for Independent Maps, 300 North Elizabeth Street, Suite 220B, Chicago, Illinois, 60607. You can also make contributions to the Illinois Chamber or to the Chamber PAC: 215 East Adams, Springfield, Illinois, 62701.
Third, seek endorsements from other organizations with which you or your business has affiliations. The Illinois Chamber encourages local chambers to join the campaign by endorsing the amendment and asking their members to join the petition drive to secure voter signatures. We also encourage statewide, local or regional trade and professional organizations to support this initiative.
This is an important opportunity for citizen-directed grassroots activity to bring fundamental change to Illinois government. I encourage you to enlist in the effort. iBi