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National Editorial & Columnists

For better results, let people draw redistricting lines

Amendment proposed to reform system

Think Illinois has serious leadership problems? You’re hardly alone.

Polling by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in 2012 found 77 percent of Illinois voters believe corruption is widespread in state government. How could they not? At the time, the state’s two most-recent former governors, Democrat Rod Blagojevich and Republican George Ryan, were serving time in federal prisons.

Yet the same Illinois voters went to the polls in November 2012 and returned an astounding 97 percent of incumbents to the state capital in Springfield. That’s not a result skewed by Chicago, either. All incumbents seeking re-election in Southern Illinois were returned to office.

Cynics might suspect insanity; the diagnosis that accompanies hoping for better results by repeatedly trying the same failed methods. But nonpartisan political reformers point to a structural flaw that allows incumbents to ignore the wishes of voters, or engage in pay-to-play tactics only the naïve still believe were eliminated by law.

Democratic representative government is based on voters picking their state senators and representatives. But the process of drawing the maps for the state’s General Assembly districts is a political function conducted away from the eyes and ears of the voters. The maps are designed to benefit the party in power and return incumbents to office.

Instead of voters picking their representatives, the representatives pick their voters. Without a structural change in the redistricting process that creates the General Assembly district maps, true political reform will forever be handicapped.

Redistricting won’t occur until the completion of the next U.S. Census in 2020, but the time is ripe for structural change. A grassroots effort is building statewide through Change Illinois! to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2014 that would take redistricting power away from politicians and put it in the hands of a newly created citizens’ redistricting commission that would be independent, transparent and nonpartisan.

Once on the ballot, a task that might cost as much as $1 million in donations, the effort to convince voters would be conducted like a congressional campaign, requiring millions more in donations from as broad and representative collection of groups and individual as possible.

It won’t be easy and it won’t be inexpensive, but the voters of Illinois have a rare opportunity through the efforts of Change Illinois!

If you’re sick and tired of the same-old, same-old from Illinois government, it’s time to make a change. Let’s start picking our representatives, instead of letting them pick their voters.

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