Democrats, Republicans call for new way to draw Illinois political maps

Democrats, Republicans call for new way to draw Illinois political maps

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Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces Thursday to once again call for changes in the way political boundaries are drawn in the state.

At several news conferences, lawmakers and government reform groups called for an amendment to the state Constitution that would have an independent commission draw the boundaries for U.S. representatives and state lawmakers. Currently, those political maps are drawn by state lawmakers from one party or the other leading to charges that the maps are gerrymandered to favor one party.

Efforts to change the map-making process have been tried in recent years only to have the courts rule them invalid. Madeleine Doubek, executive director of CHANGE Illinois, a group promoting the amendment, said the new proposal is "an improved" version of the remap idea. The idea remains the same, however: distance politicians from drawing their own political boundaries.

"The people of Illinois understand we can't have honest government and hold politicians accountable if we don't have truly competitive elections," Doubek said. Politicians picking their voters is clearly the epitome of a conflict of interest."

The idea is also popular with voters. A poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found 67 percent of voters favor the idea.

Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, is the lead Senate sponsor of the remap amendment.

"When unfair maps are drawn, it is almost impossible to level the playing field," she said. "Gerrymandering is ruining our democracy."

The effect has been to create polarized political views that hurt chances to compromise.

Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said changing the way maps are drawn to make competitive political districts is a way to combat corruption in the legislature.

"When legislators pick their own constituents, instead of the voters having the ability...to choose their own leaders, we end up in a circumstance where it is natural for many members of the General Assembly to decide to act outside of what is appropriate and proper," he said.

In order for the proposed amendment to appear on the November ballot, it would have to be approved by both the House and Senate by super majority three-fifths votes. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has opposed the idea of an independent panel drawing political maps for Congress and the General Assembly. A spokesman for recently elected Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said Harmon "has a history of working for redistricting reform and looks forward to reviewing this proposal."

Bush said it will be up to lawmakers to work around any potential opposition from legislative leaders.

"I believe that if we have a mass of legislators that want this amendment to move forward and be on the ballot, that's the way the leaders are going to pay attention, know we're serious," Bush said. "It has to be bipartisan. It's up to us."

She cited the Reproductive Health Act from last year that was stalled until rank and file lawmakers put enough pressure on the leaders to start moving it. The bill passed and is now law.

"We must stand together and we must build a mass," Bush said.

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