SPRINGFIELD – State Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) is hopeful that gerrymandered legislative districts will be a thing of the past in Illinois.
"Everyone's vote should count," Meier said in a phone interview with the Madison Country Record from the House floor last week. "In many districts right now, not everyone's vote counts. I am happy to be supporting this measure. It's something that needs to be done."
Meier's comments came days after Independent Map Amendment issued a news release announcing a state review of the group's petition likely has found more than the minimum 290,216 verified signatures to place a proposed redistricting reform measure on November's ballot. The measure would create an 11-member commission representative of the state's demographic and geographic diversity and take other steps to more uniformly draw legislative districts in Illinois.
The Illinois State Board of Elections officials completed its signature verification examination of Independent Map Amendment's 563,974 petition signatures, the Independent Map Amendment news release said.
Election officials are projecting that almost 73 percent of those signatures "appear to be genuine and match the signature of a registered voter living at the address printed on the petition," the news release said.
The large number of signatures collected by Independent Map Amendment during its petition drive indicates strong support for the measure in the state, group chair Dennis FitzSimons was quoted in the news release.
“The citizens of Illinois have signaled very clearly with their signatures that they want legislative redistricting reform on the November ballot,” FitzSimons said. "The statewide petition collection was a massive undertaking, and its success was made possible by the dedication of countless volunteers and field staff. The huge number of petition signatures is yet another sign of the strong statewide support for an independent, transparent, and impartial process for drawing state legislative maps."
The measure mostly would draw straight lines or recognize natural boundaries, such as rivers, to determine districts, rather than gerrymandering to target specific partisan voters, Meier said.
"It's mostly just straight lines," Meier said. "When you get to 115,000 people in a district, you draw a straight line for the next district and that's it. What could be more fair than that?"
Independent Maps's website describes itself as a non-partisan statewide coalition with a goal of placing redistricting reform. Independent Map Amendment supporters include Democrats and Republicans, as well as leaders in Illinois commerce and civic organizations. Supporters include former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar; Bill Daley, former Secretary of Commerce under former President Bill Clinton; Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum; Rosanna Marquez, state president, AARP Illinois; Mary Kubasak, president, League of Women Voters of Illinois; Don Thompson, former CEO, McDonald’s; and former Illinois Lt. Govs. Sheila Simon and Corinne Wood.
The measure has its detractors and now faces a legal challenge.
Chicago attorney Michael Kasper of the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, filed a lawsuit May 11 in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of "People’s Map". The case filed for People's Map by Kasper, who also serves as general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party and has close ties to Democrat Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, asks the court to toss out the proposed Independent Map Amendment ballot measure.
Kasper also represents three St. Clair County judges who are seeking to keep their seats in controversial bids for election, rather than retention.
Members of People’s Map, according to the lawsuit, include Chicago Housing Authority Board Chair and former executive vice president of ComEd John Hooker; Chicago Board of Education President and former ComEd chairman and CEO Frank Clark; the Rev. Leon Finney, a community organizer and head of the nonprofit Woodlawn Community Development Corporation; former CHA chair and housing developer Elzie Higginbottom; Raymond Chin, chairman of the board of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce; Fernando Grillo, senior vice president of investment banking firm Estrada Hinojosa and former head of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation; Jorge Perez, executive director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and appointed member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Community Development Commission; and Craig Chico, president of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council on Chicago’s South Side.
“Now that the petition review process is complete, we can focus on fighting the lawsuit filed by entrenched political interests looking to deny citizens the chance to change the system,” FitzSimons said in the news release. “We will aggressively defend the constitutionality and fairness of the Independent Map Amendment, and we are determined to give voters that choice in November.
Previous attempts at redistricting in Illinois have failed. In 2014, a petition drive for the "Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment" looked like it might gain enough support. However, Cook County Judge Mary L. Mikva ruled that proposal unconstitutional in a decision handed down June 27, 2014.
Meier said he was pleased this year's measure has gotten even greater support than had the 2014 proposal and is having greater success.
He said that anyone who doubts the need for redistricting reform in Illinois need look no further than the 108th House District he represents.
"If you'll look at my district, you'll see a sliver that is about three houses wide that goes on for several miles," he said. "Why is that so?"
Legislative maps are redrawn every 10 years based upon findings of U.S. Census data. The process in Illinois is steeped in a tradition of partisan power brokering with resulting political boundaries that tend to keep some districts solidly Democratic or solidly Republican.
This year's proposed redistricting reform measure would draw lines based on simple grids to take in a certain number of residents rather than try to determine districts by likely partisan voters, Meier said.
"If the voters pass it, it will be in favor of the people of Illinois from the start," he said. "It won't be just in favor of Republicans, it won't be just in favor of Democrats, it will be in favor of the citizens of this state and I believe the change is going to be huge."