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Guest View: Elections board should help voters

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The voters of Illinois deserve the chance to decide the state's political boundaries in the November election.

That should be the principle guiding the Illinois State Board of Elections. This group of political appointees should be bending over backward to make sure any voter-initiated amendment drive gets on the ballot.

Instead, the board appears more responsive to political leaders.

The issue concerns an amendment to change the way political maps are drawn. If this amendment were approved, it would be fairer and would make politicians more responsive to their constituents.

It's a big issue -- in fact, if we want to change the state's reputation for corruption and poor government, this is a required step. But the politicians -- especially House Speaker Michael Madigan -- want to keep the issue off the ballot. They don't want voters to get the chance to decide on how their government operates.

The Board of Elections has thrown up what seem to be obstacles to getting this issue on the ballot:

A sample was taken of the more than 500,000 signatures submitted and many signatures were disallowed by Board of Elections personnel. But the results varied widely: One examiner disallowed 86 percent of the signatures, while another disallowed 16 percent.

The petitioner -- Yes for Independent Maps -- was not allowed subpoena power, which would have made the process faster. Instead, Yes for Independent Maps had to file Freedom of Information Act requests, a process that can be slow under the best of circumstances.

The board seems intent on putting this decision on the fast track, even though it has until at least Aug. 22 to decide on the signatures. Why the big hurry? The board also overruled its own hearing officer and moved the deadline for verifying signatures up a week.

It's also clear that it's relatively easy to disallow a signature, but hard to restore one. That's backward. The fact is, most disallowed signatures were on technicalities that could have easily been ruled the other way. In issues like this, the voters should get the benefit of the doubt.

In case you're wondering, the board is made up of these people: Jesse Smart, Casandra Watson, Bryan Schneider, Betty Coffrin, Ernest Gowen, Charles Scholz, William McGuffage and Harold Byers.

The board should be independent, but so far it seems to be putting the concerns of Madigan and other elected officials ahead of those of the voters.

That's wrong and the board should change its attitude toward voters immediately. Laws need to be followed, but the board needs to bend over backward to grant the wishes of voters.

This editorial first appeared in the Bloomington Pantagraph, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

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