Political map initiative comes up short - League of Women Voters unable to get enough signatures

Chris Essig
Herald & Review
May 1, 2010

SPRINGFIELD - Despite efforts by those on both sides of the aisle, Illinois lawmakers likely will not reform the way they draw their voting districts this year.

The Republican-endorsed Fair Map Amendment is the latest redistricting proposal to hit a roadblock this legislative session. In a letter sent Thursday, the League of Women Voters, which helped push the plan, said it failed to gain enough public support to put the measure on the November ballot.

Because redistricting reforms alter the state constitution, proposals must be approved by voters. The group needed 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot but officials estimate they only garnered half of that.

Mary Schaafsma, issues and advocacy coordinator for the league, said the group didn’t have enough resources, both physically and financially, to get the necessary signatures. And the league started circulating petitions in December, just a few months before the May deadline.

"We simply didn’t have enough time," she said.

Regardless, Schaafsma said people were excited about signing the petitions, as were the volunteers passing them out.

"We heard from so many people that said, ‘This is the easiest thing I’ve done,’ " she said.

Republicans endorsed the Fair Map Amendment and tried passing legislation with the same language as the amendment, but it was blocked by Democrats. A Democratic plan also failed Thursday after Republicans refused to support it.

There is still time left before the legislators’ scheduled May 7 adjournment date to pass the Fair Map Amendment through legislation, but supporters aren’t optimistic.

"I’m not sure how optimistic I am, but that is what we have left. That is all that is left on the table," said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the national Census is completed, meaning the next legislative map in Illinois will be drawn next year.

Reforming the current system has been one of the most contentious issues in the Capitol this legislative session because it alters the way districts are drawn. Reformers complain that the current system gives lawmakers too much power to draw their own districts, allowing them to gerrymander the map to their advantage.

Democrats complained the Fair Map Amendment did not do enough to protect minorities, while Republicans complained the Democratic amendment still allowed incumbents to draw their own districts.

Despite this year’s setback, the League of Women Voters plans to push a similar citizens initiative, with the hope of having a proposal on the ballot in 2012.