Saying Illinois is in "awful shape," a leader in the effort to change the way the state redraws its legislative boundaries was in the Quad-Cities on Wednesday, touting a plan to create a citizens panel designed to put voters back in charge of the process.
The group, called Yes! for Independent Maps, is seeking to get on the November 2014 ballot with a proposed constitutional amendment.
The amendment calls for establishing an 11-member commission to do the job, with seven chosen by lottery and the other four by legislative leaders of both parties.
The 11 commissioners would be picked from a larger pool of up to 100 applicants, and the panel would have to be politically and geographically balanced.
The amendment's language also seeks to prevent people from serving who are politically connected or would have a stake in how the lines are drawn.
The criteria used to redraw boundaries would include a prohibition against discriminating or favoring any particular party.
Hearings would be held before and after maps are drawn, but legislative approval for the boundaries would not be needed.
"We feel that it will create more accountable, open government where maps are drawn, not based on rewarding or punishing friends or foes, but putting the voters back in charge," said Michael Kolenc, the group's campaign manager.
The group says its supporters include member of both major parties, as well as non-partisan groups.
Kolenc, a former aide to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as well as former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's presidential campaign, said the plan is based on one that voters approved in California in 2008.
Iowa already utilizes a non-partisan process, though it is different than what is proposed here. In Iowa, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency is tasked with drawing maps, which then go to the Legislature for approval.
The Illinois group said its method will preserve minority voting rights.
If Illinois voters were to give their approval next fall, the process would first be used before the 2022 elections. Political boundaries are redrawn once every 10 years, following decennial censuses, so it could not take place before then.
A bit more than 298,000 signatures will be required to get on the ballot. And Kolenc says the goal is to get 450,000 to 500,000 by the May 4 deadline.
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The additional signatures are being sought to ensure getting on the ballot if there are challenges to any of their validity.
A similar effort in 2010 failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot.
The new commission would not redraw congressional boundaries. The state constitution forbids it in this case, according to the group.
Currently, Kolenc said, he is seeking to build support for the effort, as well as put in place a statewide network of activists who will gather signatures.
Kolenc said he believes the most difficult part of the process will be to get enough signatures to get on the ballot. But he noted after it changed the way it redrew its boundaries, California's prospects have improved.
"This is something Illinois needs," he said.