March 9, 2020
The Illinois Fair Maps Amendment was announced in both Illinois chambers as an effort to change the way in which the state’s legislative districts are drawn. If both the House and the Senate pass this amendment with a three-fifths majority, the amendment will be put on the next general election ballot.
The FMA is supported by senators Melinda Bush, John Curran, Terra Costa Howard and Ryan Spain. It is also supported by dozens of state organizations, such as the Latino Policy Forum, League of Women Voters Illinois and the John Howard Association. The biggest proponent of this amendment, however, is CHANGE Illinois, an organization that has pushed for district legislative reform for the past three elections.
“CHANGE is nonpartisan, and we are a nonprofit organization,” said Liliana Scales, advocacy director for CHANGE. “We believe that cheating the system is being done on both parties, and we want to create an independently districting commission that would be fair and transparent.”
Every 10 years, redistricting happens in the state of Illinois after the U.S. census. The dominating party of the state is responsible for drawing the district lines. Instead of this, the FMA proposes a 17-person independent commission that would provide a transparent redistricting process. On its fact sheet, the amendment states the commission would be made up of “citizens who demographically, politically and geographically represent our state.”
“One of the arguments we’ve heard is that we’re trying to disarm the Democratic party,” Scales said.
She added that this is not the goal of the organization. The current proposal requires seven Republicans, seven Democrats and three Independents on the commission. The members cannot be lobbyists or government contractors. Additionally, they cannot be holding a political party position, be public employees reporting directly to an elected or appointed official or be required to Illinois State approval for their job.
The John Howard Association, an independent prison oversight monitor for conditions of confinement and treatment of incarcerated people, is in support of the Fair Maps Amendment.
“We work within the confines of the criminal justice system, but you know, we want democracy to work for everyone,” said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the association. “We are aware of the fact that there are many people that are completely disenfranchised and excluded from meaningful participation.”
The bill is modeled after a 2016 proposal which received 105 “yes” votes in the House. The 2016 proposal stated that it required “that both types of districts, in addition to being compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population, must reflect minority voting strengths, promote competition and consider political boundaries,” and that it replaced “the current method of redistricting of the Senate and House of Representatives with the following: an eight-member Independent Redistricting Commission.”
Additionally, the FMA also requires at least 30 public hearings on the maps before a final vote is taken.
“Our general focus as an organization is to focus on policy issues to reform and restore the trust of Illinoisans that has been lost for quite some time,” Scales said.