By Jamey Dunn
A constitutional amendment that would change the way Illinois draws its legislative districts passed in the Senate today with only Democratic support.
The legislative leaders from the House and Senate would be charged with naming a 10-member committee for their respective chambers. These commissions, which would presumably consist of five Democrats and five Republicans each, would hold hearings throughout the state to take input and inform the public.
However, the General Assembly would have the first shot at drawing the voter districts. A map that includes both chambers could pass just like any other bill and then go to the governor’s desk. If that doesn’t happen by June 20 of the year after the census, each chamber could draw its own map through a resolution, which requires a three-fifths majority vote but doesn’t have to be signed by the governor.
If the legislature cannot agree on a map or maps, the redraw would fall to the commissions. Each commission would approve a map for its respective chamber. Six members out of the 10 would have to agree.
If the commissions cannot pass a map, the senior Illinois Supreme Court justices from each party would appoint special masters to do the job. If they do not choose maps by October 5, the task would go back to the General Assembly.
The act also contains protection for minority populations that exceed those in the federal Voting Rights Act.
Republicans argued that any plan that allows the legislature to draw its own districts is not a step in the right direction. A Senate committee voted down a Republican plan, backed by several reform groups, earlier this week.
“The people have made it very clear with increasing volume that they don’t trust the Springfield leaders,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican.
Murphy said both parties have come together recently to pass positive changes, such as pension reform. However, he compared the legislative process surrounding redistricting to the partisan fight over reform that took place last year. That battle resulted in Democrats passing a plan that was opposed by many of the same organizations that are against this amendment.
“This redistricting proposal, like so-called campaign reform last year before it, is a cynical ploy to convince the people that real reform has arrived, while all that was really achieved is the continued consolidation of power in the hands of the few. This is a blatant incumbent protection plan,” he said.
Chicago Democrat Sen. Kwame Raoul, sponsor of the amendment, said that many of his Republican critics approved the last map that they are now saying was cut through backroom deals.
“The congressional map that people refer to that shows the gerrymandered districts was a map that was sponsored by you, not me. Had I been there, I would have voted against it. … I chose the people over the legislative leaders. The people would choose who would draw the map under this scenario, not the legislative leaders,” he said.
The amendment now goes over to the House. Speaker Michael Madigan has not said whether he supports it. However, he backed a similar plan that passed in that chamber in 2008. The measure has to pass by May 1 in order to appear on the ballot next November. If it does not or if voters reject it, the current plan would stay in place.