Illinois voters will not get a chance to weigh in on the question of whether Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other legislative leaders in the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly should continue to hold the keys to drawing the state's legislative district maps, after the leaders of the state House and Senate refused to call a vote for a constitutional amendment designed to curtail their influence over the process.
On Sunday, May 6, the deadline passed under which the Illinois General Assembly could have voted to place a referendum on the so-called Fair Maps Amendment on the ballot for the November 2018 general election.
Under the state constitution, a minimum of six months is required between the time an amendment is approved by both houses of the General Assembly and when the measure can be put to the people on a general election ballot. Such amendments require approval from three-fifths, or 60 percent, of the members of the Illinois state House and state Senate to be sent to the people for ratification.
Beginning in February, legislators in the House and Senate introduced joint resolutions, calling on their colleagues to approve the Fair Maps Amendment, a proposal largely drafted by and supported by Change Illinois, a coalition that has taken up the mantle of leading the effort to urge changes to the Illinois constitution to strip the power of the General Assembly’s legislative leaders to gerrymander the state’s legislative districts for partisan advantage and incumbent benefit.
Speaker of the House Michael Madigan
Under the proposed amendment, the state would be forced to establish “an independent redistricting commission” to draw district lines.
Currently, the district boundaries are set every 10 years by legislative leaders in the state House and Senate, with the approval of the governor. In 2010, the last time such a legislative map was set Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, of Chicago, controlled both houses of the General Assembly, while Democrat Pat Quinn served as governor.
Republicans have accused Democrats of gerrymandering the maps – or drawing them in such a way to exaggerate Democratic numbers and increase their majority beyond what it should be if district boundaries were drawn using the criteria in the state constitution, of being “compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.”
Under the current system, should the majority of the General Assembly and the governor deadlock over a map, the state constitution requires the establishment of a “Legislative Redistricting Commission” split between the Republican and Democratic parties. Should that commission deadlock, the constitution requires the Illinois Secretary of State to “publicly draw by random selection” one of two names submitted by the legislative leaders of each party.
Under the new system proposed in HJRCA 43, the state would create an 16-member commission to draw district lines, with two members from each of the state’s judicial districts, selected by two Illinois Supreme Court justices. The committee members would include seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents. An additional independent would be appointed in the event of a tie.
Maps would be presented in a series of 20 public hearings before they are presented for approval, and 10 more after formal presentation.
Maps would need to be adopted by Aug. 1, under the proposed amendment.
Change Illinois has noted the proposed amendment is modeled closely after a similar amendment offered in 2016 by former state Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat, of McHenry. That proposal received 105 votes in the Illinois House at that time.
The current amendment, as presented in the joint resolutions in the House and Senate, has also appeared to have received significant support.
In the Senate, 39 members, including a large number of Democrats from Chicago and elsewhere in the state, joined Republicans in signing on as sponsors.
In the House, however, only two Democrats – state Reps. Carol Sente, of Vernon Hills, and Linda Chapa LaVia, of Aurora – signed on with Republicans to sponsor the measure.
However, despite the support, the measure has not even been called for a vote in either chamber, instead bottled up by legislative leaders in committee.
The lack of action on the amendment also comes two years after allies of Madigan and the Illinois Democratic Party argued in court against a citizen initiative to place a different anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment before voters. That initiative, known as the Independent Maps Amendment, died when a sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court declared the proposed constitutional changes unconstitutional and refused to let it go before voters. All four of the justices in the majority against the redistricting amendment – Thomas Kilbride, Anne M. Burke, Mary Jane Theis and Charles Freeman – had affiliated with the Democratic Party before winning election to the state high court. Three of those four are from Cook County.
The majority also refused a request to provide any guidance on how to tailor an amendment to possibly survive their scrutiny.
Before introducing the new Fair Maps Amendment in the General Assembly, Jeff Raines, spokesman for Change Illinois, said the coalition members decided not test the courts again, and decided not “to go down the same path again, particularly since we have no guidance from the court.”
On Monday, after the deadline passed to place the Fair Maps Amendment on the 2018 November ballot, Change Illinois said they had “hoped” to put the question before voters this year. But they said “the fight for fair maps has been a long game, building up public and legislative support through the 2021 redistricting process.”
“We’re proud of what we achieved,” they said, noting the level of bipartisan support in the Illinois state Senate and pledges from Illinois gubernatorial candidates of both parties “to veto any gerrymandered map.”
“For the remainder of the year, our coalition will be focusing on public education around the 2018 election and holding the winners’ feet to the fire,” Change Illinois said in its prepared statement. “Redistricting reform isn’t an issue that’s going away. Our work in 2018 will serve as a critical starting point for next year’s push. We can only build up from here.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated only one Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives had sponsored the Fair Maps Amendment. In fact, State Rep. Carol Sente was also among the co-sponsors of the legislation.