It is one thing to declare, as we have in previous installments of this editorial series, that Illinois' system for establishing legislative boundaries is a travesty that serves to entrench political power brokers and impede meaningful change. It is a more important thing to identify whether the state has an alternative.
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It begins with an effort under way to amend the Illinois Constitution. That effort, led by a coalition of reform groups operating as Yes for Independent Maps, seeks to place a referendum on the November ballot to create a more transparent and fair redistricting process in the state. We urge you now to support that referendum and no doubt we will repeat the appeal many times between now and November.
But you don't have to wait to get involved.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the organization's website, independentmaps.org. There, you'll find not only answers to questions about the constitutional amendment and a complete description of the process it would put in place, but also options for getting personally involved. Those may be as simple as finding out where you can sign a petition to get the issue on the ballot or as advanced as contributing money or actually distributing petitions. In order for the issue to appear on the November ballot, Yes for Independent Maps must collect nearly 300,000 signatures by April, so both time and support are critical.
Why is this particular option worth your attention and effort? Several reasons.
The proposed change is an outgrowth of recommendations made by a task force put in place by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2009 and subsequently ignored by the political establishment, and it builds on them with research of the experiences in Iowa, California, New Jersey and other states that have created new redistricting mechanisms that aim for fair representation of all -- emphasis on all -- interests of their populations.
The Yes for Independent Maps proposal would have maps drawn by an 11-member commission made up primarily of citizens who apply to participate. Two would be registered Democrats, two Republicans, three unaffiliated with any party and four appointed -- one each -- by the top legislative leaders. Selection of the seven non-appointed commissioners would be made by lottery from a pool of 100 most-qualified applicants as determined by a nonpartisan applicant review panel.
Once in place, the commission would be required to create legislative districts that are contiguous and substantially equal in population, do not diminish the ability of any racial or language minority to elect candidates of its choice, respect town and local-government boundaries, accommodate social and economic interests of neighboring communities and do not intentionally favor or disregard any political party or group.
All meetings and records of the commission would be open to the public, and draft maps would be debated in public hearings throughout the state before adoption of a final map, which would require not only seven votes from the 11-member commission but also that those seven votes include at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members.
The Illinois redistricting amendment clearly has been written to emphasize fairness and inclusion. With this system in place, politicians no longer will be able to foist upon the electorate boundary maps created behind closed doors and unveiled at the eleventh hour to protect some political interests and diminish others.
For too long, Illinois politicians in both parties have taken advantage of a redistricting system that is easily manipulated to create confusing boundaries that defy the interests of democracy in order to fortify and promote entrenched factions. For too long, we've all complained. Now, there is something we can do about it.
Let's get it done.