No change on state's redistricting system

Published: 4/30/2010 10:23 AM

SPRINGFIELD - Despite ballyhooed efforts to overhaul how political boundaries are drawn in Illinois there will be no changes as a leading civic group bent on reform and the Republicans they'd allied with both succumbed to insufficient numbers.

The League of Women Voters announced late Thursday its petition drive would come up short and fail to force the issue onto the November ballot for voters to decide.

"We simply did not have enough time to finish the kind of statewide campaign necessary to meet the constitutional requirements of a citizen initiative," league Executive Director Jan Czarnik said in an e-mail to media outlets.

A total of 288,000 valid petition signatures had to be submitted by May 3. Czarnik did not say how many the league collected, but even with petitions still in the field, said the drive would fall short.

It followed in futility a twin effort by Republicans at the Capitol to win legislative approval of such a plan. But Republicans are in the political minority and lacked the votes from the beginning. Their initiative was voted down in committee.

In turn, Democrats pushed their own proposal, but it too failed Thursday when Republicans in the House offered no support, calling it false reform. The plan needed 71 votes for approval in the state House. Democrats control 70 and the plan ended up with 69 after Marengo Democrat Jack Franks, with the outcome all but certain, seized upon the moment to also vote "no" as an independent protest.

The contentious crossover of geography and politics comes every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The boundaries of 118 House districts and 59 state Senate districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts. Controlling the mapping process can, and has, translated into political gains.

Under the terms of the 1970 constitution, if lawmakers can't agree on maps, a tiebreaking vote is pulled out of a hat and the winner controls the process.

During the last redistricting process, Democrats won the random drawing and turned it into a decade of state-level Democratic rule. Republicans won the map for the 1990s and similarly made gains.

This year, Republicans and the League of Women Voters pursued a plan that would have created a nonpartisan commission to draw maps and submit them for legislative approval. If lawmakers couldn't agree, the panel would pick the map.

But the GOP-backed plans were criticized as failing to protect minority representation.

The Democratic proposal would have created a "special master" to settle disputes between lawmakers, rather than settle deadlocks with a random drawing.

"This is clearly a strong improvement over what we have in the Constitution today," said state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat from Chicago.

The demise of all three plans means the current system remains in place.