Changing the way Illinois’ legislative districts are drawn is one of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s priorities, and he may get some help this year from outside the General Assembly.
Despite the Republican governor’s stance on the issue and his ongoing stalemate with legislative Democrats, putting the once-a-decade redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission has widespread bipartisan support, said Jim Bray, spokesman for the group Independent Maps.
The change would require an amendment to the Illinois Constitution, and the group is making the third attempt in four election cycles to put the issue to voters.
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The Independent Map Amendment needs 290,216 valid petition signatures to get on the November ballot. At the end of 2015, supporters had gathered more than 483,000 of the 600,000 signatures they hope to collect by the early May deadline.
“People want to be able to have fair elections, and they want to have choices when they go to the polls,” Bray said. “They don’t want to have the politicians deciding who gets elected.”
Currently, the Legislature redraws boundaries after each census, which critics say allows the majority party to carve up the state to its own political benefit. Because Democrats were in power after the 2010 census, the current map was drawn in their favor.
The process protects incumbents and discourages people from running for office, Bray said.
In 2014, for example, 60 percent of House and Senate races were uncontested.
“If you like the status quo in Illinois and the way things are going in the General Assembly and you like your choices when you go to the polls, you should oppose this,” Bray said.
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While the group has the backing of some Rauner supporters, such as billionaire Morningstar CEO Joe Mansueto, who state records show donated $100,000 to the effort and more than $200,000 to the governor’s campaign, its backers also include prominent Democrats, such as William Daley, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, and former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
State Rep. Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale is one of several sitting Democratic legislators supporting the effort.
Another supporter is Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield, who represents a safe GOP district and is currently unopposed in the November election.
“It’s great for me; I don’t have a problem with that, obviously,” Butler said. “But I think for the people of Illinois, it’s bad when we don’t have competitive districts.”
A similar proposal in 2010 didn’t make it to the ballot because supporters didn’t gather enough signatures. A circuit court judge removed a 2014 proposal from the ballot, ruling that it went beyond the scope allowed for a voter-driven amendment.
Bray said Independent Maps learned from the previous attempts and is “confident that this amendment will pass muster with the (Illinois) Supreme Court.”