Illinois lawmakers likely to miss deadline to move on fair maps proposal before redraw

(The Center Square) – With the last session days of April having been canceled, reform advocates’ hopes of passing a ballot initiative before Illinois redraws its political boundaries become a near impossibility.

The Illinois Constitution requires a ballot initiative to be enacted via the General Assembly six months before the election that it will be on. November’s election is the last chance to change the state’s guiding charter before lawmakers are to take decennial Census data and rework political boundaries, absent public input.

With the final three chances for a constitutional amendment having been canceled due to the still-prevalent threat of COVID-19, the state’s deadline is almost assuredly to be reached without lawmakers acting on the two proposals.

Each has dozens of sponsors and bipartisan support. A February poll commissioned by Change Illinois, a nonprofit advocacy group, found that 75 percent of the state’s voters support the ballot initiatives.

Under the proposals, an independent redistricting commission would be chosen to draw the political maps for the Illinois Senate and House. Advocates have said this will provide for fairer elections instead of placing power over district lines in the hands of politicians who have a vested interest in getting re-elected.

“It’s such a political process that we go through,” said Ryan Tolley, policy director at Change Illinois. “We really need to understand what’s best for Illinois voters.”

Tolley said an independent map commission wouldn’t magically tip the political scales toward Republicans, but rather create more competitive races. Just about half of Illinois lawmakers will be unopposed in their November elections.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, released a statement Monday afternoon calling for lawmakers to return to Springfield.

“Today I called the governor, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate and told them Illinois Senate Republicans stand ready to return to Springfield to take up the timely and important issues facing Illinois and its residents such as the fair maps amendment and COVID-19 related issues,” he said. “The work we do for our residents is essential and it can be done in a safe manner by following the proper social distancing guidelines. Other units of government are meeting and doing the people’s business. It is time for the Illinois legislature to do so.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on the campaign trail that he would veto any legislative map drawn by Democrats that seemed unfair. Should he veto the proposal crafted by legislative Democrats, a unified caucus in both House and Senate could override it and make the maps a reality.

“President Harmon has worked throughout his legislative career to improve the redistricting process,” said John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon. “He looks forward to working with advocates to explore ideas once we are able to move past this global pandemic and its fallout.”

Patterson confirmed that one of the lawmakers who sponsored the amendment was in discussion to institute a similar measure by law.

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