Illinois Farm Bureau sponsors initiative to end gerrymandering in Illinois, allow people to have a say in redistricting

By Benjamin Cox on April 24, 2018 at 2:00am

The Illinois Farm Bureau wants to help end gerrymandering and give the people the option to have an input on the drawing of maps for congressional districts. In a statement from the Farm Bureau’s Vice President, Brian Duncan, the Farm Bureau is joining with the Fair Map coalition in urging the General Assembly to approve HJRCA 43 and SJRCA 26 in order to create a balanced and independent redistricting commission that is desperately needed.

Kevin Semlow is the Director of State Legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau. Semlow mentions the fast-approaching deadline for the General Assembly to pass these resolutions as well as the current status of each amendment in the Illinois government.

When the General Assembly has issues in front of it to amend the Constitution, the General Assembly has until May 8 to put those on the ballot. And to do so, the House and Senate would have to pass the same resolution through the process by a simple majority vote, which would be 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate, to place it on the ballot for the November 8th election. Now the General Assembly can do that anytime between now and then. Currently, the two pieces of legislation, the two proposed amendments, are still in their respective Assignments and Rules Committees. They have been scheduled for hearings in a standing committee. So we are encouraging the General Assembly to please adopt those resolutions and give the voters a chance at the November election.”

Semlow talks about how each amendment must be identical for this process to be legal, and details the specifics of members and duties of the independent redistricting commission.

Both constitutional amendments are identical in their content. They would create and independent redistricting commission to allow voters to have a say in the redistricting process. There would be 16 commissioners appointed by the top two Supreme Court Justices in Illinois: 7 members of the two major political parties, and then two independent individuals that aren’t tied to either of the major parties, would be on that commission, appointed by the Supreme Court Justices. They would be charged with, after the census, to draw the maps and this approach would open it up to allow individuals to submit their own maps, make comments. We want all the information to be public and everyone to have access to it.”

Semlow recalls an effort made in 2016 that took a different path through the government, as well as the specific reason why this approach was unsuccessful despite major public support.

When you have a voter initiative to change the constitution, you are very narrow in scope of what that language can address. It can only address a legislative article. And within that you have to meet two strict legal definitions. You have to change the structure, and the procedures of the General Assembly. And what happened last time was, the coalition that has been working on this for over 10 years worked in the private election cycle to get something on the ballot, but didn’t get enough signatures. This time, there were over 560,000 certified, legal signatures. But as always with a constitutional amendment, they’re challenged in court to see if they meet those very strict and narrow constitutional confinements, and the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that they did not and said the question was unconstitutional, and so therefore it was not placed on the ballot.”

Semlow discusses the new strategy and why the General Assembly should prioritize this.

The one in 2016 that received the necessary signatures was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because it did not meet those strict measures. So that’s why the coalition transformed into the coalition we’re working with now to seek a change through resolution, through the General Assembly, which gives you much broader and less strict confinements in amending the constitution, but you’ve got to get it through the General Assembly. And we’re working to encourage the members of the General Assembly to put this at the top of the list here in the next few weeks so the voters can have a say at the upcoming November election.”

The General Assembly must pass joint resolutions by Tuesday, May 8th. If you have thoughts on the independent redistricting commission, call your local state senator or representative.