Thursday, February 18, 2010

Republicans propose redistricting plan

By Jamey Dunn


After the 2010 census, the time will come for Illinois to redraw its legislative districts. Republicans unveiled a constitutional amendment today to change the way the state undertakes the complicated and highly political process.

Currently, it falls to the legislature to draw and approve a map that the governor must sign. If a deadlock occurs and lawmakers do not produce a map by June 30 of the year after the census, the choice is made by a commission of four Republicans and four Democrats named by the legislative leaders. If the commission cannot reach a compromise, then each party nominates a ninth member. The secretary of state then randomly selects — this is where the infamous drawing a name out of a hat part of the process comes in — one of the two proposed candidates to cast the tie-breaking vote.

The original intent of that seemingly arbitrary final solution set it in the 1970 Constitution was to force a compromise between the parties. Framers of the plan thought that surely no politicians would roll the dice on such a random winner-take all way of dividing the districts. However, legislators have gone with this option almost every time.

“The way we do it in the state of Illinois makes absolutely no sense. … We are picking legislative boundaries and ultimately deciding who may represent you based on the flip of a coin or picking a name out of a hat,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross said.

Republicans partnered with the Fair Map Group to promote the proposed amendment. Under the measure, a commission with nine members would draw the map. The leaders would appoint four of the members, and the commission would chose its ninth member.

Legislators would vote up or down to approve the map but could not make changes. If the legislature rejected the map, the commission would draw a new one. If that one didn’t go over either, the commission would have to pick one of the two.

If the commission could not settle on a map, then the judicial branch would get involved in the process. The chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and a justice of the other political party would appoint a “special master” to make the decision.

The Fair Map goup is collecting signatures to get the amendment on the November ballot through a voter’s initiative. Jan Czarnik, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said the group wants a backup plan in case the legislature does not pass an amendment. “If we were sure that the legislature would do this, we wouldn’t be out collecting the signatures that we are collecting. We would like to see the legislature do this. ”

Czarnik said she is optimistic about getting the amendment on the ballot one way or another. “Voters are literally pulling the clipboard out of our hands to sign the petition,” she said.

Both Czarnik and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno agreed any proposal that would allow the legislature to draw the map would not be a genuine step toward reform.

However, some Democrats disagree.

“The legislature would get the first crack at drawing the map,” Chicago Democrat Sen. Kwame Raoul said of a redistricting proposal Democrats plan to roll out next week. Raoul, the chairman a Senate redistricting committee, said a nine-member commission could not represent the diversity of the state as well are the General Assembly could.

Raoul accused the Fair Map Group of not seeking input from Democrats and minority advocates. He said he felt shut out of the process of drafting the proposed amendment.

“I couldn’t get any specific answers as to what minority groups had been consulted for this plan that’s supposedly so protective of diversity. It would seem that, if we are speaking transparency and openness, that such groups would be consulted before the proverbial train had left the proverbial station,” he said.

Czarnik said that Raoul did not follow up with her organization on the issue after the Senate committee hearings. However, Raoul said that when he asked about the plan in December, after hearing about it in news reports, he was told that it was too late to make any changes.

Raoul said the Democrats’ plan will “mirror many of the principles” of the Republican proposal. He said it is similar to an amendment that passed in the House in 2008 and was based on recommendations from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

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