Party Lawyers, Consultants Stand in Way of Independent Maps in Illinois

The movement for reforming the drawing of legislative districts in Illinois marches toward its goal but continues to face political obstacles.

The Independent Map Amendment, the group behind the effort, seeks to take such power from politicians and return it to the people of the state. If successful, the voters of Illinois will have the opportunity to vote on the matter in November. Currently, the legislative districts are drawn in the General Assembly, which has Democratic veto-proof majorities.

Under the proposed amendment, approval of legislative districts would depend on seven affirmative votes on an independent panel, where no more than two of those votes belong to members of each major party. The process assures that independents have a say in the drawing of Illinois’ legislative districts, but would not take effect until after the next decennial census.

Lori Lightfoot, a lawyer for the Independent Map Amendment recently said:

“If we change the way legislative districts are drawn, we invite the people into the process, let them choose their legislature, make races much more competitive, you’re going to have a much more responsive legislature.”

In 2014, a similar proposal from Yes! For Independent Maps was struck down by Judge Mary Mikva largely on two grounds: a restriction on who could serve on the independent panel and that there were not enough valid signatures.

In this cycle, the Independent Map Amendment sought to alleviate at least one of those problems by seeking many more signatures than necessary. Needing 290,000 valid signatures, more than half a million were obtained.

On its Facebook page, the group says the effort is paying off:

“We just completed a week long review of a 5% sample of our petitions at the Board of Elections. The verdict is in: our signatures passed with flying colors. Board of Elections personnel validated 72.7% of the petition signature sample, which is head and shoulders above the 52% validation rate we needed.”

Yet there still remain hurdles before the proposed amendment can be voted on this November. Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed against the ballot measure.

Bringing the lawsuit is Michael Kasper, who says the proposed amendment violates the Illinois Constitution regarding how citizens can amend the document. Kasper is also legal counsel for longtime Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, although the speaker’s office denies Madigan is behind the current lawsuit.

The People’s Map, the claimant in the lawsuit, asserts that the amendment is a threat to minority representation in the state government. The claim that an independent commission would effectively reduce the number of seats representing minorities was propounded by Madigan in 2014.

However, the first section of the amendment states that:

“[T]he redistricting plan shall not dilute or diminish the ability of a racial or language minority community to elect the candidates of its choice, including when voting in concert with other persons.”

According to IllinoisSunShine.org, the People’s Map is chaired by John Hooker, a former lobbyist for ComEd utility company and a one-time appointee by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Chicago Housing Authority.

Despite the legal challenges, the Independent Map Amendment is supported by people all across the political spectrum. Many city chambers of commerce, the Latino Policy Forum, Libertarian Party of Illinois, President Barack Obama, and Governor Bruce Rauner have all voiced support for the reform effort.