Monday, April 19, 2010

Citizens' initiative needs more signatures

By Jamey Dunn

Advocacy groups need to collect more signatures from voters to get a redistricting plan on the ballot in November.

An effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters in the general election, spearheaded by the League of Women Voters, has collected fewer than half of the signatures needed to get the proposal on the ballot.

The league needs 288,000 people to sign petitions, and so far, Jan Czarnik, its executive director, estimates it has collected about 120,000. The signatures must be turned in to the secretary of state’s office by May 3.

“There are lots and lots of petitions still out there,” Czarnik said.

The amendment, which is identical to Republican-backed legislation that stalled in a Senate committee last week, would create a commission, appointed by legislative leaders, to draw the map. The Democrats' plan allows legislators the first shot at creating voter districts.

Backers of the citizens' initiative say letting lawmakers draw the map is a conflict of interest, while Democrats say the so-called Fair Map Amendment, supported by Republicans, does not do enough to protect minority populations.

Czarnik said that if the effort fails, it might be because of a lack of volunteers and time.

“It’s two weeks before we have to file, and if we do fall short, it’s only because we haven’t had enough people circulating petitions in such a short period of time. We are having absolutely no trouble getting people to sign the petitions,” she said.

If enough voters sign the petitions, the Illinois State Board of Elections and local election officials would then have to verify the signatures. Supporters of the amendment expect legal challenges to the validity of the signatures, as well as to the constitutionality of the proposal.

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