Redistricting amendment to give Illinois voters a voice, according to Savanna mayor
As the result of a massive and ongoing petition campaign, Illinois voters may soon have the opportunity to change the way the state’s legislative districts are drawn.
Under current law, these boundaries are established by the party in control of the governor’s office, the state senate, and the state House following each decennial census. If neither party controls all three branches, the mapmakers are determined through a lottery drawing.
In Illinois, Democrats have been in charge of the process since 2000. Critics of the system point out that it encourages politicians to draw districts that are stacked with voters from one party, thereby discouraging any serious competition from the opposition party. This situation, they contend, undermines democracy because voters are presented with fewer choices in elections -- consequently diminishing their chances of accountable and responsive representation.
“That’s a shame because when you draw a district that is so strong on one party’s side, whether it be Republican or Democrat, potential challengers don’t want to compete with that,” Tony McCombie recently told Rock Island Today.
McCombie, who is working as a volunteer in the petition drive, is the mayor of Savanna and the Republican candidate for House District 71.
“It’s too hard, especially when you have an incumbent who has been in the business for so long," she said. "We’ve had too much control by one legislator in a district; they get complacent and they are not working for the voters anymore -- they are working for their donors."
But the petition initiative, known as the Independent Map Amendment (IMA), could lead to drastic changes in the way lines will be drawn in the future. If adopted, the IMA will result in a referendum this fall that will give voters the choice to either continue under the current system or place the duties of mapmaking to an independent and bipartisan panel.
This IMA represents the third attempt at redistricting reform. Last year, the initiative was blocked by Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mikva, largely on technical grounds. She stated at the time that her ruling wasn’t particularly based on the merits of the IMA itself and that a proposal employing different language could be constitutional.
The measure was also rejected by the Illinois State Board of Elections, which indicated that IMA organizers had failed to collect enough valid signatures from registered voters to earn a ballot spot.
House Speaker Mike Madigan has been one of the most highly visible opponents of the IMA, and his chief concern is that the measure would have a negative impact upon minority voters and equal representation in the state.
"The so-called 'reforms' in Illinois will devastate the voices of minority community and minority voters," Madigan said. "What's called the Independent Map Proposal has components which work against established constitutional and statutory requirements on minority representation in redistricting."
McCombie, however, does not share Madigan's point of view.
“Hurt minorities how?” McCombie said. “Politicians can say things like that -- it’s a silly statement -- people can say things all day long, and there’s no backing behind it. The reason Mike Madigan and those that are standing with Mike Madigan who don’t want to see the map process redone fairly, is because they are scared … they know that if the people were really being heard, they would no longer have a job and they would no longer be able to suck the citizens of Illinois dry.”
The petition campaign, chaired by former Tribune CEO Dennis Fitzsimons, is being overseen by a diverse, bipartisan board of directors that includes Ruth Greenwood, staff attorney for the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Rev. Byron Brazier, of Apostolic Church of God; Latino Policy Forum Executive Director Sylvia Puente; and former Playboy Enterprises CEO Christie Hefner, among others.
The stated goal is to have the signatures of roughly 600,000 registered voters by next month’s deadline. If successful, the drive will put an Independent Map Amendment on the November ballot.
“Map redistricting is going to give the voters a voice,” McCombie said. “Right now, the voters are being compiled in a skewed manner so their voice cannot be heard. I think ultimately that is what the map redistricting is going to do.”
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