For years, good-government advocates have pushed for a new way to draw Illinois House and Senate district boundaries to curb the influence of partisan politics in deciding who controls the General Assembly, only to fall short due to legal hurdles. Now a new group funded by well-heeled backers is taking another run at the issue as it tries to learn from mistakes of the past by getting an earlier start and drafting a proposal it believes can withstand an inevitable court challenge. The Independent Map Amendment effort says it’s well on its way to getting enough signatures to put the measure on next year’s ballot, aided by voter frustration over the stalemate at the Statehouse. But like last time, the latest drive is drawing opposition from a group led by African-American businessmen who said they fear changes in the process could end up reducing minority representation and influence at the Capitol. Some of them successfully challenged a similar proposal last year, aided by a lawyer with close ties to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, a 44-year veteran who helped write the Illinois Constitution and is opposed to changing how legislative maps are drawn.
At stake is a proposed constitutional amendment that voters would decide in the 2016 general election that would change the every-decade method of redrawing the state’s 118 House and 59 Senate districts to conform to population changes in the federal census.
Currently, the legislature is charged with drawing the maps, which critics contend lets lawmakers pick their own voters by bending district boundaries to favor one political party over the other.
The twists of the current map lines, drawn by Democrats and approved by then-Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, is a major factor in the impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Madigan. Rauner, a Republican, has pledged to use his wealth to erode Madigan’s power and support, which has given Democrats a 71-47 edge in the House and a 39-20 advantage in the Senate.