Changes sought in redistricting


Legislative district boundaries usually are agree to behind closed doors by political leaders looking to protect their interests, according to organizers of a petition drive seeking to overhaul the state’s redistricting process.

The facts that 97 percent of legislative incumbents in Illinois won after the 2012 redistricting and that incumbents were unchallenged in two-thirds of the races illustrate how the system is designed to protect those in power, according to the group Yes for Independent Maps, which is seeking to amend to the Illinois Constitution to create an independent redistricting commission.

Independent Maps staff member Erin Shipley was the guest speaker at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Edgebrook Community Association. About 10 people attended the meeting, which was held at the Edgebrook Library, 5331 W. Devon Ave.

Independent Maps, which is supported by the League of Women Voters, is leading a petition drive to place the amendment on the ballot for the November, 2014, election. About 298,000 signatures of registered voters, or one-eighth of those who voted in the last statewide election, are required for the amendment to appear on the ballot, and Independent Maps is seeking to collect 500,000 signatures in an effort to withstand a challenge to the petition.

The amendment would have to receive the support of at least 60 percent of those voting in order to be approved. The League of Women Voters led a petition drive in 2009 to place the amendment on the ballot, but not enough signatures were collected to file the petitions with the state.

Edgebrook resident Jac Charlier, who is circulating petitions, said that politicians often feel that they can ignore the wishes of their constituents because they represent a district that was designed to virtually ensure their re-election. "There is not much of a need for them to proceed on behalf of the community, unless they feel so inclined," were said.

Charlier said that as he has been collecting signatures he has found support for the amendment to be across party lines" "It is a very easy issue to get traction on," he said. "I have had one person out of 90 not sign, and they are signing it not because they love me."

None of the state’s top political leaders has endorsed the proposed amendment, although some of candidates have expressed support for it and are helping to circulate petitions, according to Shipley.

Some residents at the meeting questioned why Independent Maps is working with candidates if the intent of the amendment is to create a nonpartisan legislative map, but Shipley said that help circulating the petitions is needed. She said that a staff member meets with the candidates and explains the group’s goals.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the release of U.S. Census data. Legislative boundaries often do not align with the boundaries of a city or neighborhood, but the proposed amendment calls for community, municipal and geographic boundaries to be respected.

The amendment also would require that the voting rights of minorities be preserved, and contains a selection process for forming an 11-member redistricting commission, which would have three independents and up to four members of each of the state’s top two political parties. The type of ballot chosen in a primary would be used to determine whether an applicant is considered an independent or a member of a political party.

A review panel would narrow the number of eligible commission applicants to 100, and the speaker and minority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives and the president and minority leader of the Illinois Senate would each have the option of removing five of those applicants.

All commissioners would then be chosen, in some instances randomly, from the pool of applicants. There would be limits on the number of candidates from one party and a requirement for a demographically and geographically diverse commission.

Thirteen states have some form of an independent redistricting commission, according to Independent Maps.