Raise your hand if you want to improve state government.
We assume most of you, at least in your mind, have your hands raised. Remember this moment when you are asked to sign a petition to change the state’s constitution to have legislative maps drawn by an independent commission.
A group called Yes! For Independent Maps will be working diligently for the next few months to gather signatures that would allow voters to decide in the November 2014 election to change the way maps for state House and Senate districts are drawn.
Currently, the drawing of the maps is a political process, with the party in charge reaping the rewards. That’s why the Illinois political map is littered with gerrymandered districts that share one purpose: To ensure Democrats will win the seat. As a trade-off, there are also some “safe” Republican districts.
The result is that two-thirds of the general election races in the state are uncontested or one-sided affairs. That makes elected officials more beholding to the party, which can withhold campaign funds or recruit a primary opponent if someone is too much of a rebel, than to constituents.
The fair, independent drawing of political maps is the most important thing Illinois voters can do to change state government for the better.
To place the Constitutional amendment on the ballot, the groups wanting independent maps need to collect about 298,000 signatures of registered voters by May 4, 2014. Those signatures will undoubtedly be challenged, so the group will need to collect thousands of additional signatures to be safe.
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If that occurs, voters will get to decide in the November general election whether to amend the constitution.
The change is modeled after an amendment that recently went into effect in California. The change in the way maps are drawn is credited with a less partisan, more citizen-oriented government in that state.
The process to select the independent commission is complicated, but it ensures that no current elected official, at any level, would be on the panel and requires a balance between independents, Democrats and Republicans. Any political map would require approval from all three groups. For details on the process, go to
To date, the movement has been endorsed by a wide group of current and former politicians, Republicans and Democrats. It is supported by a variety of groups, including Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters.
Who opposes the change? Michael Kolenc, campaign manager for the group, diplomatically says it will be those “who want to maintain the status quo.” That’s code for many current legislators.
For now, the emphasis is on gathering signatures to get the amendment on the ballot. You can volunteer on their website, and we’d encourage all registered voters to sign the petitions when asked.
Complaining about state government is something of a sport in Illinois. This is a chance to make a significant change.