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posted: 7/10/2013 5:00 AM

Join movement for a more fair redistricting process

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By Ryan Blitstein

Illinois government is in terrible shape, plagued by high levels of corruption and too many dishonest leaders. Legislators are failing to respond to the needs of average citizens, which only worsens voter cynicism. One recent Paul Simon Institute study showed that 77 percent of Illinoisans believe government corruption is widespread, and the National Conference on Citizenship reports that only 15 percent of us feel state government does the right thing most of time.

Now is the time for voters to take back control and push for fair, honest, effective Illinois government.

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Creating an independent redistricting process is the first major step on the road to this change. Right now, politicians control redistricting -- the drawing of legislative districts. Behind closed doors, partisan interests manipulate district boundaries to control who will be elected. This often leaves voters without a choice at the ballot box. In last year's general election, 97 percent of state House incumbents won their general elections. Two-thirds did not even face a challenger! Under this system, the voters are unable to choose who will represent them.

We need to amend the Illinois Constitution to establish a transparent redistricting commission that puts the voters back in charge and guarantees independent maps for all Illinois residents. Yes for Independent Maps -- and organization that grew out of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition of more than 50 groups representing 2 million Illinoisans -- will fix the broken process through a nonpartisan, grass-roots campaign to put a Constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot.

The amendment creates an independent redistricting commission made up of qualified Illinois citizens who reflect the state's geography and demographic diversity. The commission will draw state House and Senate maps in a process that is transparent and open to public comment. Under this new system, maps will be drawn with respect for the geographic integrity of our cities and neighborhoods. The maps will hold politicians accountable to their constituents by making elections more competitive. These important reforms will give all Illinoisans the representation they deserve in Springfield and allow citizens to put Illinois government back on track.

The Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment was written with input from voters across the state. The drafters paid close attention to the needs and desires of average citizens, as well as the counsel of legal and policy experts, and the successful redistricting reforms in California in 2008 and Florida in 2010. Both states have seen progress and fairer practices under an improved redistricting process. This carefully crafted amendment will bring meaningful change to Illinois and help end partisan, corrupt practices.

Today, Yes for Independent Maps enters the signature-gathering phase of its campaign. Dedicated coalition members, community organizers and enthusiastic volunteers are traveling the state to gather 298,399 signatures to put this measure on the 2014 ballot. If you see a volunteer sporting a "Yes for Independent Maps" T-shirt, a clipboard and a pen, be sure to sign the petition and show your support.

This amendment will bring independence to a broken, unfair and secret process that gives politicians too much control. We need to put the voters back in charge, and Illinois needs your help to ensure that the people of our state get to decide on this important initiative. Visit IndependentMaps.org to sign up to help collect petition signatures, and join the movement to establish an independent mapping system in Illinois.

• Ryan Blitstein is senior adviser to the Yes for Independent Maps campaign.

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