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Kickoff nears for independent remap campaign

Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

In the coming months, as you go about your daily routine, there’s a good chance you’ll be approached by a volunteer who wants to talk about legislative maps. We know, we know – you stopped for a gallon of milk, not a civics lesson. But give a listen. It’s important.

On Wednesday, a group called Yes! for Independent Maps will launch its campaign to amend the Illinois Constitution. Its goal is to take redistricting out of the hands of the politicians who put their interests ahead of yours.

The group needs almost 300,000 valid signatures by May 4 to get the amendment on the November 2014 ballot. That’s daunting. So get involved. You can read more about this at independentmaps.org.

But before you do that, here’s our handy cheat sheet:

Who draws the maps?

Here’s how it’s done now: The majority party wields the pen, and the minority party is shut out.

Here’s what would change: The maps would be drafted by an 11-member independent redistricting commission, chosen through a process designed to keep any party or group from holding the upper hand.

Any Illinois citizen – you, perhaps? – could apply to serve on the commission. A nonpartisan review panel would weed out the lobbyists, public officials and others with vested interests, then select a pool of 100 candidates based on analytical skills, diversity and impartiality.

The four top legislative leaders could each strike up to five of those candidates. Seven members – two Democrats, two Republicans and three with no political affiliation – would be selected by lottery from the remaining pool. Legislative leaders would then each appoint one additional member.

What’s the point of redistricting?

Now, the object is to manipulate district boundaries to ensure the election of the mapmakers’ chosen candidates. That means drawing safe districts for majority party candidates – so safe that in the last election, more than half the winning candidates ran unopposed. It also means corralling minority candidates into districts where they’re disadvantaged or pitted against each other.

Under the amendment – and the U.S. Constitution, frankly – the goal is to maximize the potential for the residents of a district to elect a representative of their choice. One person, one vote.

What priorities govern the mapmaking process?

The key factors now are where the incumbents live and how the precincts voted in the last election. That information is used to control the political makeup of the districts to favor the party drawing the maps. If that means busting neighborhoods into shards and creating districts shaped like spiders and salamanders, so be it.

The amendment would require mapmakers to respect geographic boundaries and to avoid splitting social and economic communities. (Again, that’s already supposed to be the case.) It expressly states that home addresses are not to be taken into consideration and that boundaries must not be drawn to favor or disfavor a political party.

Can citizens participate?

Here’s how it worked last time: One group of lawmakers traveled the state, pretending to listen to the concerns of citizens, who were even encouraged to submit their own maps using census data and mapping software provided by the Legislature. Meanwhile, the real maps were being drawn by Democratic power brokers, behind closed doors. The public had no opportunity to weigh in before they were approved.

Here’s what would change: The commission’s meetings and all of its records would be open. Hearings would be held throughout the state to get public input before and after the maps are drawn.

What does it take to pass a map?

As long as the job is completed before the close of the regular legislative session, it takes a majority vote of both Houses to send the maps to the governor. So if one party controls both chambers and the governor’s mansion (like now), the other party doesn’t matter.

Under the proposed amendment, approving a map would require an affirmative vote of at least seven of the 11 commissioners – at least two from each party and three unaffiliated.

What happens if there’s a deadlock?

Now: Democrats hold such a commanding majority in the General Assembly that passing a map is no problem, and that’s a self-perpetuating advantage. In less lopsided times, legislative stalemates are broken through a draw-from-the-hat tiebreaker. Don’t laugh. The maps have been decided that way three times.

Here’s what would change: If the commission failed to pass a map, the job would fall to a special master appointed by two Illinois Supreme Court justices: the chief justice and the ranking justice from the other party.

The current system is aggressively gamed by politicians, at the expense of voters. The party in power remains in power not by earning your support, but by rigging the map. Hey, it works for them. That’s why they’re never going to fix it, and why it’s up to you.

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