SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A growing coalition of prominent and diverse organizations today announced a grassroots campaign to fix the broken process of drawing General Assembly districts in Illinois.
CHANGE Illinois! launched the exploratory phase of an effort aimed at giving voters in the November 2014 election the opportunity approve a state Constitutional amendment distancing legislators from the map-drawing process by establishing a nonpartisan, independent commission to create fair, representative districts.
CHANGE is a diverse, statewide coalition representing everyday residents, business and civic leaders, and nonprofit organizations from around the state and across the political spectrum demanding fair, honest government. Much of its leadership is drawn from the coalition of more than 50 groups representing 2 million Illinoisans whose policy analysis and public education helped lead to the 2009 passage of Illinois' first major campaign finance reform in a generation.
"Changing the way Illinois does redistricting is the best, surefire path to a more fair and effective government in Illinois," said George A. Ranney, Jr., Chair of the CHANGE Illinois! Board of Directors. "Our proposal will bring sunlight to the redistricting process and make our elected representatives more responsive and accountable to the voters who elect them."
The amendment would create a citizens' redistricting commission made up of a group of Illinoisans who, via a standardized qualification process, would reflect the state's geographic and demographic diversity. It would replace the flawed provision in the 1970 Constitution, which has resulted every 10 years in either a highly partisan map approved by the legislature and governor, or one decided by a partisan name drawn out of a hat as a "tie-breaker."
Through a politically neutral process, the commission would draw new lines for legislative districts every decade, following the release of U.S. Census data, beginning in 2021. That process would ensure that district lines reflect shifts in population over time and fairly represent the people of Illinois.
"Our draft amendment would create a fair, open redistricting process that allows the people of Illinois to hold politicians accountable," said Deborah Harrington, Vice Chair. "We will give Illinoisans' the chance to prove that their votes matter."
"Redistricting in Illinois is still a back-room process, one that fails to give the people of Illinois the transparency and accountability they deserve," said Board Member Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum. "Our nonpartisan redistricting commission would bring the process out into the open, where it belongs, clearing the way for a more diverse candidate pool of public servants to lead."
Studies show that Illinois citizens are tired of corruption and want a say in how to improve their government. According to a Simon Institute Poll, a whopping 77 percent of Illinoisans believe corruption in Illinois government is widespread. Yet partisan redistricting currently prevents voters from holding politicians accountable. According to State Board of Elections data, only 4 percent of legislative races from 2002-2010 were competitive, and in nearly half of elections, there wasn't even a challenger. Last year's General Assembly election was even less competitive.
"Right now, the politicians are choosing their voters instead of the people choosing their legislators," said Peter Bensinger, Vice Chair. "Legislators owe their allegiance to the leaders who draw the maps. Under our proposal, they will owe their allegiance to the voters."
Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and senior counsel at Sidley Austin LLP, as well as a founding member of the CHANGE coalition, added, "The best way to clean up Illinois government is to put the voters in charge – and here is the way to do it."
In the coming weeks, CHANGE Illinois! will meet with as many Illinois residents as possible to solicit their ideas to finalize the amendment text and the plan to put the reform amendment before voters in 2014.
"The current redistricting process is conducted behind closed doors. Our proposed process—and our entire campaign—will be open and transparent," said Ryan Blitstein, CHANGE Illinois! President and CEO. "We will bring together community leaders, people at the grassroots, and everyone in between in support of redistricting reform."
At the beginning of June, the group will make revisions and place the final amendment language on petitions. Thousands of volunteers will begin collecting the 298,399 signatures needed to place the initiative on the ballot. The signature-collection process will continue through April 2014, and then Illinoisans will get to vote for fair change in state government on Nov. 4, 2014.
The following organizations have signed on to support CHANGE's redistricting reform initiative:
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago
- Better Government Association
- Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
- Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice
- Common Cause Illinois
- Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
- Illinois Public Interest Research Group
- Latino Policy Forum
- Metropolis Strategies
- Reboot Illinois
CHANGE (the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics) Illinois! is a coalition of diverse civic, business, and nonprofit organizations demanding fair, honest government. Over time, the coalition will address a range of institutional and policy issues in pursuit of a fair, effective democratic process in Illinois. The CHANGE redistricting initiative is a campaign to create an amendment that would reform the way the state's legislative district maps are drawn. For more information about the initiative and a full list of supporters, visit www.ChangeTheDistricts.org.
SOURCE CHANGE Illinois!