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Take Back Illinois!

From The Beachwood Good Government Press Release Room

CHICAGO - A citizens' movement to "Take Back Illinois" launched today with the Illinois League of Women Voters, Better Government Association, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and other reform groups at the helm, including former members of the Illinois Reform Commission.

The partnership unveiled its plan for a petition drive to empower voters to change the state's redistricting process with an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. "The Illinois Fair Map Amendment will take unfair politics out of the redistricting process and put the power in the hands of the people," explained Jan Czarnik, Executive Director of the Illinois League of Women Voters.

According to data obtained at the State Board of Elections, since the current legislative map was drawn by legislators in 2001, incumbents have won their elections at a staggering 98 percent success rate.

"Obviously, the folks who are drawing the maps are making sure they win. Our current system is flawed and political," Czarnik added. "It's a winner-take-all system that has benefited insider Democrats and Republicans over the past three decades. It is the Illinois voters who have lost out."

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is endorsing the plan as well. "The map-making process is critical to allowing voters to choose representatives who reflect their districts' diversity. Improving Illinois' redistricting process to ensure that the process is independent, open to public participation and adheres to the Voting Rights Act should concern every citizen," said Cindi Canary, ICPR director.

Legislative boundaries are currently drawn by the General Assembly and its leaders, with partisan control literally picked out of a hat every ten years. "In Illinois, incumbents become more entrenched with districts drawn to protect those legislators who are loyal; competition is squelched and politicians choose their voters. The result is the lack of courage and failure in leadership we're seeing today. The Illinois Fair Map Amendment is the opportunity people have been waiting for to take back Illinois," Czarnik said.

"If you want to pick your representatives - instead of letting them pick you - sign our petition!" Czarnik said.

The League of Women Voters and others have long pointed to redistricting reform as a fundamental change needed to end the culture of corruption. Governor Quinn's own Illinois Reform Commission joined in this year.

"We were hopeful that the legislature was going to address redistricting reform in 2009, but with the year winding down it now appears that we need to take it directly to Illinois voters." said Brad McMillan, a key member of the Illinois Reform Commission. Illinois Reform Commission Chairman Patrick Collins also participated. "We want to put the power in the hands of the people - not the politicians," McMillan said.

The Illinois Fair Map Amendment is based on the proposal put forth by the bipartisan Commission. McMillan explained the Amendment would allow for an independent commission to draw the state's legislative district boundaries after the 2010 census in an open and transparent process.

McMillan said the Fair Map Amendment language came together after public testimony in public hearings of the Senate Redistricting Committee - and with the input of reform groups determined to preserve the integrity of the process. The independent commission would provide substantive protection for minority voting rights - while reducing the dominance of legislative leaders and taking undue political influence out of the process. The state's practice of drawing from a hat to determine who controls the redistricting process would be eliminated, instead calling upon the Supreme Court as the fail-safe. The Amendment does not address congressional districts, due to constitutional limits of a citizens' initiative.

"There is a hunger for reform in this state - and I believe we can mobilize the citizens of Illinois to help us make a difference and truly change the way we do business here," said Andy Shaw, Executive Director of the Better Government Association (BGA). "But the only way we can make this happen is to get every concerned citizen and community group involved.

"This is no small task. Gathering signatures from every corner of the state will take a lot of volunteers, time and money. Not to mention what we're up against. I imagine a lot of lawmakers will sign onto our proposal - but try their darndest to make sure it doesn't happen . . . because they like the power," Shaw said. "But this is our government - and we're here to take it back."

Shaw noted the BGA is committed to cleaning up Illinois government through civic engagement. "For too long, government has been run by powerful people behind closed doors," Shaw said. "This is a rare opportunity to actually let citizens have a voice - and decide on their representatives."

The Illinois Fair Map Amendments partners are looking for 500,000 people to sign the petitions by May 2 to safely ensure the voters will decide the question on the November 2010 ballot. If approved, the Illinois Fair Map Amendment would require that the districts be compact, protect minority voting rights, respect municipal boundaries and eliminate undue political favoritism.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan nonprofit that has extensively researched redistricting around the country, put the proposed amendment in context.

"Redistricting is vital to effective representation, but Illinois carves up the state based on a draw from a hat, throwing power to one party, randomly and at the public's expense," said Justin Levitt, counsel at the Brennan Center. "The Fair Map Amendment would put the process back on a solid foundation, with meaningful independence, diversity, and transparency, and guidance for drawing lines that vigorously protects civil rights and leaves room to preserve real communities."

Czarnik, of the League of Women Voters, said the petitions will be available at www.ILFairMap.com along with detailed instructions, power point presentation, history and other information.

Illinois Fair Map Amendment Highlights
* Places map-drawing duties in the hands of an independent commission;

* Allows de-nesting: Representative districts need not be contained within a single Senate district;

* Requires a 2/3 majority vote of the General Assembly to approve maps put forth by the independent commission, and does not allow the General Assembly to draw maps on its own;

* Removes the governor from the approval process;

* Increases public transparency by requiring public hearings, public display of proposed maps and allowing submission of maps by the general public;

* Requires the commission to use neutral criteria that will specifically protect minority voting rights and eliminate unduly favoring a political party;

* Removes the current tie-breaker provision and replaces it with fair resolution of the map-making process. If the commission fails to produce an approved map, the Illinois Supreme Court would choose a "Special Master" to review all maps and data and draw the district boundaries.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on December 3, 2009


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