PI Original Angela Caputo Friday March 19th, 2010, 11:59am

The Redistricting Reform Countdown

With the May 3 deadline for getting a redistricting initiative on the ballot fast approaching, we look at stalled legislative efforts and check in with the citizen-led Fair Map coalition for an update on their reform campaign.

In a primer published earlier this month, we explained the problems with the current legislative redistricting system in Illinois and reported on two efforts to revamp the process via constitutional amendment: one led by a coalition of civic groups (the Illinois Fair Map Amendment campaign) and the other by State Senate Democrats. We also laid out the fundamental difference between the two approaches -- specifically, who draws the initial maps:

If [the Fair Map coalition] succeed[s], here's how the new process would look: "If enacted, an 'independent' commission of nine members -- meaning no lawmakers, lobbyists, or state employees -- would get the first crack at writing the maps. Like the tiebreaker commission in the current law, each party's legislative leaders would choose four members to participate. The ninth would be appointed by the commission itself." [...]

The Senate Dems' bill would give that power to the General Assembly itself. If three-fifths of the legislature cannot agree on a map, a 14-member commission (appointed by the legislative leaders) would then take up the task. The "special master" [chosen by two Illinois Supreme Court justices] takes over if the commission deadlocks.

Be sure to read our prior post to learn about the pros and cons of each approach.

Going forward, May 3 is the date to watch. That's the deadline for citizen-led ballot initiatives to submit at least 280,000 signatures to the State Board of Elections. It's also the deadline for constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature to pass both chambers.

With regards to the Senate effort, reformers aren't encouraged, particularly considering that State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) is yet to actually introduce his bill (which he outlined late last month).  We attempted to get an update from Raoul, but calls to his office weren't returned.

Meanwhile, concerns persist that House Speaker Michael Madigan is intentionally crowding the November ballot with his own constitutional amendments in an effort to keep redistricting and tax reform initiatives away from voters this fall. By law, the General Assembly can't submit more than three proposed amendments for any one election. A measure pertaining to gubernatorial recall is already on the ballot. And Madigan himself has introduced two more, one requiring a minimum years of legal practice before becoming a judge and a second abolishing the lieutenant governor's office. The former passed out of a House committee this week.

It's just those sort of tactics that have the Fair Map folks fed up. "Democrats are saying 'Don't bother with the Fair Map [Amendment]' we'll do it," David Morrison with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform tells us. "We know they've promised then failed to give voters an option before. So, we'll see."

"We feel that we've just been beating our heads against a wall," Illinois League of Women Voters (LWV) director Jan Czarnik adds. "We keep talking to the same lawmakers [about reform] and nothing gets better. Incumbents keep getting reelected. There is no consequence for failing to act."

Unlike the General Assembly, citizens have free rein to get an unlimited number of constitutional amendments on the ballot. And the Illinois Fair Map coalition is currently hustling to collect 500,000 signatures before the May 3 deadline. (The organizers want to greatly exceed the 280,000 threshold, as they know there will be efforts to challenge the validity of their signatures.)

The coalition hopes that the redistricting interest currently brewing in California carries over into the Land of Lincoln. In that state, which is also dealing with legislative gridlock and a crushing deficit, a staggering 31,000 citizens have applied for one of just 14 positions on the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

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