SPRINGFIELD -- The group that wants to take the politically powerful process of drawing election maps away from Illinois lawmakers is facing more challenges after election authorities found that a majority of petition signatures needed to put the question to voters were invalid.
State Board of Elections executive director Rupert Borgsmiller said less than half of a 5 percent sample of signatures submitted by the "Yes for Independent Maps" campaign were valid -- dealing a blow to an effort that already faces a court challenge in Chicago. But campaign officials say they've got enough valid signatures to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November and argue the state was "sloppy" in verifying signatures.
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"We believe that the state ran a rushed, uneven, and backroom signature validation process, and that's the reason for the unacceptable validity rate," campaign manager Michael Kolenc said. He argues that about 600 signatures were checked after work hours when campaign members weren't present, and contends that this would have made a difference in the outcome.
Election authorities tested more than 25,000 signatures and found that only 46 percent were valid. The group needs to prove by May 30 that at least 60 percent of the sampled signatures belong to registered voters. A voter ballot initiative needs nearly 300,000 valid signatures to put the proposal on the ballot, and the campaign submitted about 500,000 to election authorities last month.
Borgsmiller said he stands by the integrity of the process and says campaign officials knew when state employees were checking signatures. He said officials check the signatures against the state's database of registered voters.
"Everything we've tried to do is as transparent as possible. If somebody wants to come in and observe the process, they can do so," Borgsmiller said, adding that he sent daily reports to the campaign notifying them of invalid signatures.
The campaign is an effort to change the state constitution by giving legislative map redistricting responsibilities to an independent commission. Lawmakers typically draw maps to protect incumbents and hurt political foes during a process that happens every decade. Majority Democrats in Illinois used the process in 2011 to draw maps that are favorable to them. The effort also faces a lawsuit from allies of powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. It disputes the constitutionality of the proposed amendment.
The proposal would need the approval of 60 percent of voters in November if it's placed on the ballot. The only voter initiative to make it on the ballot, let alone be passed by voters was the "cutback amendment" pushed by then-political activist and current Gov. Pat Quinn in 1980. It changed the size of the House and how residents elect legislators.