Movement to Reform Illinois Redistricting Faces Crucial Deadline, Major Challenges

Yes for Independent Maps is an ongoing effort in Illinois to add an amendment to the state constitution that would put the process of decennial redistricting into the hands of an independent board. The group describes itself as a “nonpartisan campaign” to “bring together community leaders, people at the grassroots, and everyone in between.” Senior adviser Ryan Blitstein says that after years of gerrymandering and little transparency in the process, “It’s a bipartisan problem and it demands a bipartisan solution.”

Approximately 350,000 signatures have already been collected — more than enough to put the initiative on the November ballot. However, anticipating the likelihood that many of the signatures will be challenged as invalid, Yes for Independent Maps is hoping to obtain at least 500,000 signatures before officially submitting the petition. The deadline is May 4.

The proposed structure would be an 11-member board that any Illinois citizen would be eligible to be on. The state auditor general’s office would appoint a separate panel to eliminate lobbyists and anyone else with a potential conflict of interest. The state auditor general’s office would also narrow the potential candidates down to 100. The first 7 members would then be chosen through a lottery: two Republicans, two Democrats, and three independents. Then, the Democratic and Republican leaders in the state Legislature would each pick one additional member to fill the remaining 4 spots.

Although the group says it desires to have Illinois’ demographic diversity represented with the proposed redistricting board, there is no safeguard to ensure minorities are represented. Without such a guarantee, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the Chicago Urban League have declined to openly support the measure.

Jorge Sanchez, the senior litigator with MALDEF, said the proposal would leave “very little opportunity for communities of color to have representation.” On the other hand, the Latino Policy Forum has endorsed the amendment, citing it as an improvement on the current system.

The impetus for reforming the redistricting process became apparent following the 2010 elections. While the midterms were overwhelmingly successful for Republicans in Washington and several states, in Illinois, the election of Governor Pat Quinn to a full term by less than one percent of the vote, paired with Democratic majorities in the state Legislature, permitted the Democrats to redraw districts with literally no input from the GOP.

The time may be right for Illinois to begin reforming its political system. A 2012 poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that at least 70 percent of Illinois residents favored some sort of independent board to redraw electoral districts. In addition, a majority of people in another poll said they would also like to impose term limits. The first hurdle, however, will come after the May 4 deadline passes and Yes for Independent Maps expects to face its first real challenges from the status quo.

Photo Credit: Yes for Independent Maps