Redistricting reform efforts in Illinois fail for this year

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chamber of the Illinois House of Representatives in Springfield.
Image: Daniel Schwen.

The Illinois House of Representatives failed last Thursday to approve a Democratic Party-sponsored amendment to the state constitution's redistricting procedures, killing any hope of reforming the controversial process this year. The vote was 69–47, just two votes short of the 71-vote supermajority needed to propose constitutional amendments for ratification by voters in the next election cycle. 

In the redistricting process, the boundaries of legislative districts are redrawn every ten years following the US census. Districts are redrawn such that they contain constituencies roughly equal in population. During the last three redistricting periods, however, discussions have resulted in deadlock such that the maps were essentially chosen by lottery. Democrats, Republicans, and regular citizens alike have all unsuccessfully attempted to reform that process this year. All constitutional amendments must be proposed by Monday in order to be voted on in a referendum during the election next November. 

The Democratic bill, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121, was sponsored by State Senator Kwame Raoul and State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, both from Chicago. The representatives voted mostly on party lines: Democrats hold 70 seats in the House, and 69 of them voted for the amendment. 46 Republicans and one Democrat voted against it. Currie presented the amendment as an improvement because it "gets rid of the tiebreaker." In fact, she argues that the public benefits from giving the job of redistricting to the legislature as a whole, rather than an appointed committee. "...leaving the decision in the hands of 177 people who are elected by the geographic diversity...is more democratic than giving it instead to the hands of four legislative leaders."

Currie was referring to the Fair Map Amendment, a citizen-led proposal to create a nine-member commission that would contain no legislators. The party leaders would select eight of the members, however, which Democrats have opposed as intoducing too much bias. Others are against the amendment on the grounds that it does not adequately ensure minority representation. 

The lone Democratic dissenter, Representative Jack Franks from Marengo, disagrees. "I couldn’t get past that because I want to have a system where it’s not legislators choosing their electors, it should be the electors choosing the legislators," he said. Even Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was not enthusiastic about the bill and thought it was not "true reform".

Republicans have introduced the citizen-initiated Fair Map Amendment in the legislature as an alternative and have pushed for its passage. The bill was quickly struck down by a Democrat-led committee. At the same time, organizers of the petition drive for the Fair Map Amendment announced that they fell short of the nearly 300,000 signatures needed to bypass the legislature and directly place the question on the ballot. 

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