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updated: 6/24/2013 5:27 AM

Group seeks referendum to get legislators out of redistrictring

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  • Kathleen Ryg

      Kathleen Ryg

 
 

Every 10 years, shortly after a new census is complete, Illinois legislators are required to remap the state's Senate and House district lines.

The current process provides an opportunity for the party in power to draw district lines in their favor, and as a result, many races go uncontested.

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"It's rigged, it's broken and it's bad for voters," said Ryan Blitstein, president of the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics (CHANGE) Illinois!

It may seem early, but in hopes of creating a fair and nonpartisan commission to draw Illinois' district lines in 2021, CHANGE Illinois! is working to accomplish two vital tasks by the end of next year.

First, volunteers are trying to collect the nearly 300,000 signatures necessary to place a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot.

Revisions are still being made on the language of the proposed amendment, but Blitstein said the substance remains the same -- it will take the responsibility of redistricting out of politicians' hands and instead make it the job of a citizen commission, made up of carefully-selected members who reflect Illinois' geographic and demographic diversity.

The proposed amendment would not effect how Congressional districts are drawn.

The signatures must be collected by April 2014 and CHANGE Illinois! is hoping to get thousands of people to help with the grass-roots effort.

Then -- if collecting the signatures is successful -- citizens will have an opportunity "to engage and make a change" at the polls, says former state representative and CHANGE Illinois! board of directors member Kathleen Ryg.

"People really need to feel enabled to take some steps," Ryg said, adding that CHANGE Illinois! is trying to encourage voters, despite their cynicism toward the state, to see that this is a way to make a difference.

CHANGE Illinois! officials are estimating between 1.5 to 2 million citizens will need to vote in favor of the amendment for it to pass. After talking with various civic, business and nonprofit groups for the past two years about the issue -- and after hearing support from men and women, Republicans and Democrats, Independents and minorities -- they are confident it is possible.

"This is so clearly a nonpartisan, good government reform," Blitstein said, adding that he has been surprised to find that even a majority of current legislators are in favor of the change. "It's not their decision, it's the people's decision."

While they know they will face opposition in the coming months, Blitstein said he believes arguments against the proposed amendment will ring hollow, as the facts are on CHANGE Illinois! side.

According to the group, Illinois House incumbents won 97 percent of their general election races last year, and two-thirds of them did not face a challenger. Yet only 15 percent of Illinoisans believe state government "does the right thing most of the time," according to the National Conference on Citizenship.

CHANGE Illinois! is looking at examples in states like California, where bipartisan commissions currently do the remapping in a transparent fashion.

The proposed amendment would establish an 11-member independent redistricting commission that would hold public hearings throughout the state to present draft maps and discuss redistricting options.

"If you create a process that is ultra-transparent ... then you have the situation where the people on the commission feel accountable," Blitstein said. "You have a sense that you should do the right thing."

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