CARBONDALE — A major advocate for an Illinois' citizens-led redistricting effort said her organization is going overboard to ensure it has enough signatures to put the question on the November 2016 ballot.

Cindi Canary, executive director of the Independent Map Amendment, visited Carbondale Monday to talk about her organization's work to create an independent commission of citizens who would draw new district lines. She spoke to about 65 people attending the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute luncheon and lecture at the Carbondale Civic Center.

State legislators now redraw the district lines. Every decade, typically after a census, district lines are redrawn to account for the shifts in population, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. 

Canary presented an overview of the process, saying Illinois had very few rules governing the redistricting process. She did talk about how partisan and controlling the process was for legislators, who could use it for unfair political gain. She noted, for instance, that legislators could redraw district boundaries to pit an incumbent against someone in his or her own party.

"Legislators in Illinois are able to pick the people, rather than the people being able to pick the legislators," Canary said.

"It is both a way to reward and appoint legislators and to do all you can to do build up and protect the incumbent of your party," Canary said.

That can lead to little competition in races and no influx of new ideas and approaches to governing. For instance, in the 2014 elections, 70 to 80 percent of the primaries were uncontested. In 2011, 60 percent of the seats were uncontested.

"This does not motivate people to go out and vote, nor does this invite new, clear problem-solvers," Canary said. "We need some new ideas."

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The Independent Map Amendment has not created a prototype of an ideal redrawn state map, she said in response to one person's question.

The organization has already collected 310,000 signatures to put the question on the 2016 ballot, but is aiming for more than 600,000, to ensure it has enough valid signatures, she said.

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One of those attending Monday's luncheon was state. Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, a 20-year politician who decided not to seek re-election after redrawn district lines put his home in another district.

He said he supported the organization's attempts to create a citizens panel , noting that it was the one thing former Gov. Edgar said he regretted not happening under his administration. Edgar is among the 30-some members of the board for the Independent Map Amendment.

Canary said the most pushback is coming from the state's Democrat-led House, headed by Democratic party Chairman and Speaker Mike Madigan.

Democratic Party spokesman Steve Brown said the first concern is seeing how different any new Independent Map Amendment proposals are from the past proposals that the courts said "don't actively deal with the Voting Rights Act."

"Mr. Madigan’s concern is to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and this is his concern, as it was in the past, whether this plan does or doesn’t" accomplish that, Brown said.

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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