Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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Fair redistricting map in peril

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[April 21, 2010]  SPRINGFIELD -- The Fair Map Amendment proposal, touted by supporters as an anti-corruption tool, is falling way short in its quest to get on the November ballot, with a deadline fast approaching.

The proposed citizen initiative has garnered more than 120,000 petition signatures to get it on the ballot, but that is less than 50 percent of the 288,000-signature threshold. Supporters of the amendment had hoped to finish the petition drive by April 1, but that deadline has come and gone.

The coalition behind the amendment, which includes the League of Women Voters, said the fight is not yet over.

"We're not having so much trouble; it's two weeks before we have to file," said Jan Czarnik of the League of Women Voters. "If we do fall short, it's only because we haven't had enough people circulating petitions in such a short amount of time."


The road ahead is long. While the initiative has attracted the support of the league, as well as the Republican and Green parties, the drive is being managed by about three full-time staffers.

Kent Redfield, a member of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Springfield, said the effort to put the amendment on the ballot is "a long shot."

"If you've got basically volunteers circulating petitions rather than, say, political parties, people that are normally used to doing this, you're going to have to have a larger margin of error," he said. "It's a significant hurdle."

And then there is the issue of public interest.

Redfield said that redistricting does not carry with it the emotional appeal that successful citizen initiatives enjoyed, like the 1980 Cutback Amendment -- which reduced the size of the General Assembly and was championed by then-activist Gov. Pat Quinn. Redfield believes redistricting is a cut-and-dried, insider baseball issue.

But Czarnik said the amount of interest has surprised her.

"This is the easiest public education campaign (the league has) ever undertaken," she said. "Our petition circulators get as far as saying: ‘Hello. Did you know that the members of the General Assembly draw the districts for which they run for re-election?' The voters are appalled by this and angered by this."

The amendment would take redistricting -- the process by which legislative districts are drawn following the federal census -- out of the hands of the General Assembly. As it stands, the map is drawn by party leaders, which favors incumbent politicians. If passed, the amendment would create an independent commission unaffiliated with political parties, lobbying organizations or state government and assign the group the task of drawing the political map.

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The amendment has piqued the interest of some in Springfield, namely Republicans in the minority in both the House and Senate. House Minority Leader Tom Cross attended Monday's rally to criticize a Democratic proposal that would reform the process but keep it in the hands of legislative leaders.

"We need to take it out of the hands of the members of the General Assembly and give it to an independent commission," he said. "It's the only way we're going to reform the process, only way we're going to take a step forward in rehabilitating the image of this state."

Czarnik joined Cross in opposition to Senate Democrats, who have proposed several reforms to the mapping process, including opening up meetings to the public. That proposal was pushed through the Illinois Senate along party lines.

Czarnik, however, said some Democrats are joining the coalition in the fight for the Fair Map Amendment, including Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Sheila Simon.

The coalition must submit the necessary signatures by May 3 in order to get it on the November ballot. Voters would then get the chance to vote on the amendment.


On the Net:

Illinois Fair Map Amendment:

[Illinois Statehouse News; By BILL McMORRIS]

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