Three Hurdles for Critical Reform

by Brad McMillan
Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University

The Independent Map Amendment is poised to be on the November 8th ballot.

On May 6, 2016, the bipartisan Independent Map Amendment coalition submitted just over 570,000 petition signatures to the State Board of Elections in a 36-foot-long metal box. And yes, this ludicrous requirement that all signatures be bound together in one long, continuous contraption is prescribed by Illinois law! In order to get on the November 8th election ballot, the coalition needed to file 290,199 valid registered voter signatures. Once again, central Illinois—including the Bloomington/Normal, Champaign-Urbana and Greater Peoria regions—led the state in collected signatures, with the League of Women Voters and Farm Bureaus playing key roles.

If approved by voters, the Independent Map Amendment will establish a non-partisan, independent commission responsible for drawing state legislative districts in a way that is transparent and open to the public. We can—and must—remove partisan consideration from the map-making process.

Three hurdles must be crossed before this critical reform can be passed: (1) the petition signature hurdle; (2) the legal hurdle affirming the amendment language meets Illinois constitutional requirements; and (3) the election hurdle, with 60-percent voter approval required on the constitutional amendment.

Signature Hurdle Crossed
In May, the State Board of Elections completed a five-percent sampling of the petition signatures, finding a 73-percent validity rate—well in excess of the signatures required to place the redistricting amendment on the November 8th ballot. The board formally approved placing the Independent Map Amendment on the ballot at its June 13th meeting.

“The citizens of Illinois have signaled very clearly with their signatures that they want legislative redistricting reform on the November

ballot,” says Dennis FitzSimons, chair of Independent Maps. Indeed, this huge number of signatures clearly shows that Illinois citizens are fed up with the dysfunction of state government and strongly support an independent, transparent and impartial process for drawing state legislative maps.

Legal Hurdle This Summer
Michael Kasper, the attorney for House Speaker Michael Madigan, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Independent Map Amendment. A hearing was scheduled with Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Larson on June 30th, with a ruling expected within two weeks. It is likely that this case will end up in the Illinois Supreme Court this summer. Illinois election ballots need to be finalized by August 27th for the November election.

Two years ago, Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mikva ruled that a citizen-led constitutional amendment on redistricting was clearly permissible by the legislative history of the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention, but found that narrow provisions went beyond the proper scope in throwing it off the ballot.

In its current form, these narrow provisions have been deleted from the Independent Map Amendment. In addition, last summer the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional right of the Arizona Independent Commission to draw legislative maps, stating that a citizen-led constitutional amendment “was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the source of all governmental power.” It is heartening to once again know and believe that people power can trump political power.

Future Election Hurdle
Believing optimistically that the legal hurdle will be crossed, a statewide campaign will then be waged to get 60-percent voter approval on the redistricting amendment. The Independent Maps Coalition will raise the additional money, and it has the volunteer support in place to be successful.

In 2012, after California passed redistricting reform, 47-percent totally new state legislators were elected in fair, competitive elections. Most importantly, the gridlock in California government has declined significantly. The state finally dealt with its financial problems, as well as other key public issues that plagued it for many years. California now has a balanced budget—and even a rainy day fund.

In stark contrast, Illinois voters re-elected 97-percent incumbents in 2012, and we just ended a second legislative session without passing a state budget. Illinois’ gerrymandered districts are drawn to protect incumbents and thwart any meaningful competition. This is why the Independent Map Amendment is so crucial in turning state government in a better direction. We need fair, competitive elections and true accountability in Illinois politics. We need people power to finally overcome entrenched political power. iBi

Brad McMillan is executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University and a member of the Independent Maps governing board. For more information, visit