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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Illinois Fair Map Amendment

We have a legislature that picks the people and we should have the people picking the legislature


That's how Mary Schaafsma, policy director of the League of Women Voters, described the problem and solutions, broadly, here in Illinois. The League of Women Voters are the chief initiators of the Fair Map Amendment, and if they have their way come November of 2010 the citizens of Illinois will vote this amendment into our state's constitution.

The current process for redistricting, drawing the state's electoral map, is a mess. No one doubts that. It's a process filled with partisanship, gerrymandering, and there's even allegations of fraud. Currently, the process first winds up in the legislature. If a bill comes out of the House and Senate it goes to the governor. The problem is that each of the three times the legislature and governor were from opposite parties. As such, that map never survived the governor's veto. Then the leadership from each party and each chamber pick four people from each party. That's called a temporary redistricting commission. Then, five of those eight must agree on a map. Of course, with four Republicans and four Democrats, you never get five to agree. So, that means that a party is chosen out of a hat and that party's map is used for the next ten years. At the last drawing, there's an urban legend that the Republican's card was marked and the process was then corrupted.

The Fair Map would change that. The beginning of the process would remain the same. The leadership would still pick the temporary redistricting commission. The temporary redistricting commission would be changed. It would no longer be made up of legislators. In fact, legislators would be strictly prohibited. Registered lobbyists would also be strictly prohibited and so too would any state employee. By doing so, there'd be a firewall between partisan politics and the commission. At the same time, powerbrokers like Bill Cellini would be allowed on the commission. (though we hope the indicted Cellini himself would never be chosen) Then, those eight would choose a ninth person.

At that point, the committee gets together with a computer software program to design a map that fits several criteria: it adheres to the Voting Rights Act of 1969, adheres to minority districts, doesn't unnecessarily split up municipalities, and doesn't partisan advantages. The software would help in that by processing and analyzing demographical data to help in all these functions.

Once the committee chooses a map, they send it to the legislature. The legislature must approve the map with a two thirds vote. This is by no means a certainty so if a map falls short of two thirds, the committee would draw a competing map and send it back to the legislature. That's repeated up to three times. If three maps are presented and rejected, then the State of Illinois' Supreme Court Chief Justice and the senior Justice from the opposite party would choose a Special Master. That special master would choose a map and that would be the state of Illinois' map for the next ten years.

The process to take this proposed amendment and turn it into an amendment is grueling and difficult. In fact, only one has survived all the processes and been turned into a part of the Constitution. First, the amendment backers will need to get 276,000 LEGAL signatures onto their petition. Because signatures are often challenged, they're shooting for 500,000. Then, it will need 50.1% of those that vote in November or 60% of those that vote on the amendment. Most importantly, it will need to survive multiple constitutional challenges.

The constitutionality is a dicey prospect and a main reason why only one citizen amendment has ever survived the entire process. All amendments must propose a structural and a procedural change. Almost everything I've just described is a procedural change to the legislature. What is the structural change to the legislature? According to Ms. Schaafsma,

The Fair Map allows for the de-nesting of representative districts from senate districts. The current process nests two representative districts into one senate district.

Here's what "denesting" refers to.

(that plan) would change the current arrangement of districts, which sees pairs of of the state's 118 House Districts fit into each Senate district.

When I pointed this out to John Bambenek, the leader of the Putback Amendment, a sort of competing amendment, here's what he said.

That's a requirement, not structure. That's lines on a map

In fact, the State's high court has set the bar high on meeting both requirements. In 1990, the Tax Accountability Amendment was challenged on its constitutionality. Those supporting the amendment argued that the Tax Accounting Amendment created a new revenue committee and thus it changed the structure of the legislature. Those arguing against the amendment argued successfully that both chambers already have committees and that adding a new committee is a procedural and not structural change.

Furthermore, while each amendment would have to perform a structural and procedural change, there's also things they can't do. For instance, it's now written into law that no amendment can "diminish legislative power". Since the power to redistrict is given to the legislature, it can't be simply taken away. That's why the Fair Map, and the Putback as well, don't take power away from the legislature entirely but rather augment that power.

The Putback Amendment is a sort of competing amendment. The full analysis on the Putback Amendment can be found in part 1, 2, and 3.

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