(The Center Square) – The clock is ticking for Illinois lawmakers to put a proposal on the November ballot asking voters to approve a change to how legislative maps are drawn, but session days continue to be canceled amid a viral pandemic.
A few years ago, a citizen led initiative received nearly 600,000 signatures for a ballot initiative looking to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps instead of the boundaries being crafted by politicians. That was challenged by an attorney close to longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan and thrown off the ballot.
“Citizen initiatives always get challenged,” said a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections. “There wouldn’t be a legal challenge for a legislative initiative … They can put anything they want on the ballot.”
One measure in the state Senate, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 18, has bipartisan support.
“If you don’t do it now, this happens every ten years, right,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. She’s a sponsor of SJRCA18.
“We redo our maps based on population,” she said. “It happens every ten years. This is the time to do it.”
States are required to redraw their Congressional and legislative maps every 10 years, after new U.S. Census data is released, to account for population changes and migration.
State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Vandalia, is also a sponsor of the measure. He said with the Census set for this year, the time is now.
“This is the year to do it and there’s a bipartisan group of folks working towards it,” Plummer said. “It seems like a lot of good things are lining up. And the governor has said he would only sign a map that is fair and I hope he honors his word.”
Bush said there is a lot of support, but there may be political considerations as well. She said other states that have made a more fair process haven’t seen that.
“They did it in California and it didn’t cause them to elect less members of the party that was controlling the map,” Bush said. “So fair maps doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to change the number of representatives that you have in one party or another, it just makes it fair so that people are really being electing, and I think you get better representation that way.”
One problem critics of the current map-making process have is districts are drawn to favor political parties, which leads to a lack of competition for voters to choose from.
If put on the ballot and approved by voters, SJRCA18 would establish an independent, 17-member commission appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to draw the Congressional and General Assembly maps. Members would be nominated by each political party and cannot be sitting elected officials or their employees. Three of the members couldn’t have any political affiliation. The measure also allows the public to provide comments during the process.
The Illinois State Board of Elections says the deadline for lawmakers to pass a measure to get on the November ballot for voters to decide is May 4.
Both the House and Senate canceled session this week and next week. They’re not scheduled the following two weeks for spring break but are advised they could be called back at any time.