News Local/State

When It Rains Redistricting, Ballot Options May Pour


After a dearth of redistricting opportunities, there's a chance Illinois voters could be faced with several options in the November election.

Despite stumbling on previous attempts to put a constitutional amendment question before voters, the group Independent Maps is hopeful in 2016, it'll get there.

The citizens' initiative just announced it's collected more than enough signatures, and it's revised phrasing that led the courts to toss a question two years ago.

Statewide boundaries for United States congressional districts in Illinois, since 2013.

Statewide boundaries for United States congressional districts in Illinois, since 2013

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Its backers want to strip legislators from having the authority to draw their own districts. Instead, that'd be the duty of a specially-selected panel.

For years, legislators have rebuffed calls to overhaul the redistricting process.

But this year two other plans are advancing in the General Assembly and it's possible that all three versions could make it on the ballot.

On a 105 to 7 vote members of the Illinois House voted to give up the power of drawing their own districts. The remap proposal would give that authority to a court-appointed panel.

Black lawmakers like Representative Carol Ammons of Urbana say they're concerned the new method would not protect minority voters. But Democratic Representative Jack Franks says his plan provides that protection and will empower Illinois citizens.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution will now head to the Senate - which has already voted for a different, less drastic redistricting proposal.

"What we don't want to do is confuse voters. And it would be ... it would not be productive ... to have several constitutional amendments on redistricting on the ballot at the same time," Gov. Bruce Rauner said. "I hope what's going on in the General Assembly is just good faith effort to have some discussion about fair maps."

A redistricting overhaul is part of the Turnaround Agenda that Rauner has said legislators must agree to before he'll talk about new revenue to balance the budget.

But now that Democrats are moving forward, he's rebuffing their redistricting proposals in favor of the citizen-driven bid. "What we want to do is have one initiative on the ballot," he said Friday. "My personal opinion is the best one is the one that's being advocated by Republicans and Democrats through a voter referendum process."

Democrats' refusal to support Rauner's five-point agenda has led to the historic budget impasse, now beginning its eleventh month.

One of the proposals, which Democratic Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo shepherded out of a House committee late last month, would also establish a commission to draw districts, but its members would be selected by the Illinois Supreme Court. Franks also says it's preferable because it's more open to the public.

A plan sponsored by Senator Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, was approved by the Senate. It calls for public hearings, but otherwise mostly leaves redistricting as a duty of the General Assembly.