Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Redistricting reform proponents say voters need voice over legislators' self interest

By Carrie Salls | Aug 19, 2016

SPRINGFIELD – Attorneys for Independent Maps submitted a brief to the Illinois Supreme Court arguing that a lower court’s ruling against the constitutionality of a proposed redistricting reform amendment is contrary to both the drafters' intent for the 1970 Illinois Constitution and the language of the constitution’s provision allowing voters to propose amendments.

Independent Maps spokesman Jim Bray said the Independent Map Amendment would establish an 11-member, non-partisan, independent commission responsible for drawing state legislative districts in a way that is transparent and open to the public.

“The commission-drawn maps would be required to protect the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities, and the maps would be drawn without regard to incumbency or partisanship,” Bray told the Record.

Adoption of the maps would require approval of seven commissioners, including at least two Democrats and two Republicans.

“Legislators currently can draw district boundaries to help their own chances of winning the next election, making redistricting a prime example of legislative self-interest where citizens need to step in and propose reform,” Independent Maps chairman Dennis FitzSimons said in a news release.

Opponents to the amendment argued in court that it must be “limited to” structural and procedural subjects.

 Independent Maps said in its briefs that the amendment meets that test, as redistricting is a structural and procedural subject of the constitution’s legislative article.

“The transcripts of debates of the delegates to the 1969-1970 Constitutional Convention made clear that a change in redistricting is one issue that would be fair game for a citizen-initiated amendment,” Bray said. “The delegates wanted voters to be able to suggest and adopt amendments that state legislators with vested interests in the status quo would be unlikely to advance.

Independent Maps said more than 563,000 Illinois voters signed petitions to put the Independent Map amendment on the November ballot, and a diverse coalition of two dozen businesses, consumer and public interest organizations has urged the Supreme Court “to allow democracy to prevail and to let the people have their vote” on the Independent Map Amendment.

“After the Illinois State Board of Elections found we had far more than the minimum number of signatures to qualify for the ballot, a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled the amendment language does not match what the state constitution permits for citizen amendments,” Bray said. “We believe that ruling was based on an erroneous interpretation of the Illinois Constitution.”

Bray said partisan redistricting has decreased the number of legislative districts where voters have choices between two candidates. He said about 50 percent of the legislative races in this year’s election have only one candidate.

“The Illinois legislative system is broken and not responsive to voters,” Bray said. “Legislators are elected on a ‘free pass,’ and don’t have to listen to the concerns of voters. The Independent Map Amendment will not fix all that is broken in Illinois government, but it will make Illinois elections reflect the will of the people, not the politicians.”

Katie Stuart, who is challenging State Rep. Dwight Kay for his District 112 seat in the November election and is a math instructor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, said the redistricting process should be placed in the hands of the people, rather than those of the politicians.

“I will continue to advocate for changes to our archaic and secretive redistricting process,” Stuart told the Record.

Stuart said she finds the court’s ruling against the amendment "disheartening.”

“This process should be open and transparent so as to attract a diverse pool of qualified candidates,” Stuart said. “It should not go on behind closed doors where it prevents new people from running for office or where the process is turned into an exercise in securing reelection for career politicians.”

In addition, Stuart said redistricting reform should protect the ability of minority communities to elect the candidate of their choice.

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Illinois Supreme Court State of Illinois Support Independent Maps