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Term limit, political map lawsuit unfolds in court Wednesday

Published: Thursday, June 19, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) – A Cook County judge said Wednesday that she will decide next week whether two measures, one calling for limits on the terms of lawmakers and a second that would strip politicians of the power to draw Illinois election district boundaries, can appear on the November ballot.

Attorneys on both sides of a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the measures debated in a crowded courtroom during proceedings that could dramatically shape what voters will see on their election ballot. November could bring up to seven voter initiatives – four changing the state Constitution and three opinion-style questions – along with one of the most competitive and expensive governor’s races nationwide.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva said she would issue her written decision about the two signature-driven ballot questions by noon June 27. She could reject both, keep both or make a split decision.

One group, the “Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits,” led by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner calls for limiting legislators to 8 years in office, changing the sizes of the House and Senate, and making it harder for lawmakers to override a governor’s veto.

The other group, “Yes for Independent Maps,” wants an independent commission to take over how the state draws its political boundaries, instead of leaving it to lawmakers. That effort has hit a snag after the Illinois State Board of Elections found more than half of the signatures in a sample were invalid. Election officials granted the group more leeway to verify signatures Tuesday, the same day they ruled the term limits question had enough valid signatures for the ballot.

With the lawsuit, the judge must decide if the proposed questions make “structural” and “procedural” changes to the Legislature. The lawsuit contends the measures don’t meet these constitutional requirements, would changes rules for seeking office, and would affect the governor’s powers. The Illinois Supreme Court has previously held a narrow definition for changing the constitution through a voter initiative.

“It’s too aggressive,” attorney Michael Kasper, who argued in opposition to the measures, said in court of the redistricting measure. “It goes too far.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of community leaders representing business interests, among other things.

Attorneys defending the map ballot question disagreed, saying the question clearly met constitutional muster.

The measure “is designed to take politics out of the redistricting process,” attorney Michele Odorizzi told the judge.

State legislators have approved five other ballot measures, including two focused on the rights of voters, and crime victims that would change the constitution. The other three are nonbinding questions to gauge interest on raising the minimum wage, insurance coverage of birth control and a millionaires’ tax.

Republicans have argued that the sheer number of voter questions is designed to boost Democrats’ numbers at the polls in a vulnerable election year. Quinn and other top Democrats deny that.

Backers of the redistricting and term limits questions allege the court proceedings, and to a lesser extent the Board of Elections process, have been tinged by politics.

Rauner, a venture capitalist who is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, told supporters in an email Wednesday that the only barrier to the term limits question was “small group of political insiders” trying to block the measure.

Kasper, a well-known elections attorney in Chicago, has previously represented top Democrats, a fact that Republicans often raise.

He declined to comment after court, citing the pending case. Elections officials have also denied the allegations.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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