Law­mak­ers hope to gar­ner sup­port for bal­lot ques­tion

Amend­ment would al­ter re­dis­trict­ing process in Illi­nois

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By An­to­nia Ayres-Brown and Dan Pe­trella [email protected] tri­bune.com dpe­[email protected]­bune. com

Twice de­feated in the Illi­nois Supreme Court, ad­vo­cates for strip­ping law­mak­ers of the power to draw leg­isla­tive district bound­aries are mak­ing a push to put a pro­posed amend­ment to the state constituti­on on the Novem­ber bal­lot be­fore the lines are set for an­other decade.

While the previous ef­forts aimed to get the is­sue on the bal­lot through pe­ti­tion-driven cit­i­zen ini­tia­tives, the lat­est at­tempt is backed by a bi­par­ti­san group of law­mak­ers who hope to gather enough sup­port from col­leagues to get the ques­tion on the fall bal­lot.

A pro­posed state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment filed Thurs­day in the Illi­nois House and an iden­ti­cal ver­sion filed Fri­day in the Se­nate would put the power to re­draw state leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional district maps in the hands of an in­de­pen­dent, cit­i­zen-led com­mis­sion.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures are in­tro­duced peren­ni­ally in Spring­field but rou­tinely fail to gain the three-fifths ma­jori­ties needed in each cham­ber to be placed on the bal­lot.

“Politi­cians pick­ing their vot­ers clearly is the epit­ome of a con­flict of in­ter­est,” said Madeleine Doubek, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of CHANGE Illi­nois, a non­par­ti­san or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­vo­cates for re­dis­trict­ing re­form. “When politi­cians are pro­tected by rigged maps, some of them come to be­lieve they can act with im­punity.”

Re­dis­trict­ing oc­curs ev­ery 10 years af­ter the U.S. cen­sus to ac­count for changes in pop­u­la­tion, with the next map set to be drawn in 2021. This spring is the last chance for Illi­nois leg­is­la­tors to put the ques­tion to vot­ers be­fore new maps are drawn.

Un­der the Illi­nois Constituti­on, leg­isla­tive district bound­aries are de­ter­mined by the Gen­eral Assem­bly, of­ten be­hind closed doors. The in­tro­duc­tion of the pro­posed amend­ment comes two weeks af­ter some leg­is­la­tors crit­i­cized Gov. J.B. Pritzker for not dis­cussing the is­sue in his State of the State ad­dress.

Pritzker, who sup­ported tak­ing law­mak­ers out of the re­dis­trict­ing process when cam­paign­ing for gov­er­nor, has said he’ll veto any par­ti­san map that reaches his desk. That’s lit­tle com­fort to Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, who note the Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate could over­ride his veto.

The state Supreme Court struck down previous pe­ti­tion-driven at­tempts to change the constituti­on, say­ing they failed the lim­ited test for get­ting a cit­i­zen ini­tia­tive on the bal­lot to al­ter the doc­u­ment. Those rul­ings have ba­si­cally de­ter­mined that only law­mak­ers them­selves can change the method for re­draw­ing leg­isla­tive districts, which would run counter to the self-in­ter­est of leg­is­la­tors.

Ab­sent the amend­ment go­ing through, the next re­draw­ing in 2021 would be done by Democrats, who con­trol the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and the leg­is­la­ture, and can ap­prove a new map through leg­is­la­tion with­out any Repub­li­can in­put.

House Speaker Michael Madi­gan, who holds sig­nif­i­cant con­trol over the map­draw­ing process and also chairs the state Demo­cratic Party, op­posed a pro­posed ref­er­en­dum in 2016 on the grounds that it could harm mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Back­ers of the lat­est plan say its lan­guage mir­rors state and fed­eral vot­ing rights laws.

Demo­cratic Sen. Melinda Bush, of Grayslake, one of the Se­nate spon­sors of the pro­posal, said it’s up to rank-and-file law­mak­ers to put pres­sure on lead­ers to make sure the measure is called for a vote.

“I be­lieve that if we have a mass of leg­is­la­tors that want this amend­ment to move for­ward and be on the bal­lot, that that’s the way that lead­ers are go­ing to pay at­ten­tion, know we’re se­ri­ous,” Bush said. “It has to be bi­par­ti­san.”

The pro­posal, co-spon­sored in the Se­nate by Repub­li­can Sen. John Cur­ran, of Woodridge, would cre­ate a 17-per­son com­mis­sion, to be ap­pointed by the state Supreme Court’s chief jus­tice and the most se­nior jus­tice of a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal party.

The com­mis­sion would con­sist of three non­par­ti­san mem­bers and 14 par­ti­san mem­bers, split equally be­tween the two par­ties. The pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment would tackle ger­ry­man­der­ing — the process by which politi­cians draw districts to their po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage — by re­quir­ing 11 of the 17 com­mis­sion­ers to ap­prove the re­drawn maps.

Amid an on­go­ing fed­eral cor­rup­tion probe that has re­sulted in crim­i­nal charges against three cur­rent and for­mer state law­mak­ers, the time is ripe for giv­ing vot­ers a say in the re­dis­trict­ing process, sup­port­ers say. They ar­gue that al­low­ing the party in power to draw safe districts al­lows in­cum­bents to be­come en­trenched and sti­fles com­pe­ti­tion.

“If you want to root out cor­rup­tion in this state, this is the place where we need to start,” said Repub­li­can Sen. Dan McConchie of Lake Zurich.

A poll last year from South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity’s Paul Si­mon Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute found 67% of Illi­nois vot­ers sup­ported putting re­dis­trict­ing in the hands of an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion in­stead of the leg­is­la­ture.

The poll of 1,000 vot­ers was con­ducted March 11-17 for the Si­mon In­sti­tute and had a mar­gin of er­ror of 3.1 per­cent­age points. The sam­ple re­sults skewed to a ma­jor­ity of male vot­ers, and the re­sults were not weighted to re­flect the state’s racial or eth­nic vot­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Law­mak­ers have un­til May 3 to ap­prove the pro­posed amend­ment. If the pro­posal makes it to the bal­lot, it would need ap­proval from 60% of those vot­ing on the ques­tion or a ma­jor­ity of those vot­ing in the elec­tion to be adopted.

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