The Yes! for Independent Maps campaign is an initiative to change the redistricting process. Currently, the state legislature controls redistricting which essentially allows legislators to choose their voters. According to the campaign’s website, the current system makes it so that, “Legislators have little reason to listen to the needs of Illinois residents, because there’s no way for voters to hold them accountable.” The fact that last year 97% of incumbents won their general election races, and that 2/3 of them did not even face a challenger is used as evidence that the system is broken. If it’s statistically impossible for an opponent to win, they often don’t even bother to run.
Illinois has a bad reputation for corruption, as a 2012 Simon poll found 77% of Illinois voters believe corruption in Illinois government is widespread. One of the campaign’s Champaign volunteers, Trent Shepard, points to the countless people caught in wrongdoing and the sometimes blatant favoritism for Illinois’ corruption label.
“I seemingly read about some new scandal every week, whether it's some relative of some power broker being granted a favor or job, or someone being paid for a job that really doesn't exist,” Shepard said.
It is the Yes! for Independent Maps campaign’s hope that changing redistricting could possibly fix many of the issues that plaque Illinois government.
The proposed solution is to amend the Illinois constitution to create an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission. The amendment would not affect congressional districts as a citizen-driven constitutional amendment can only reform the state-level redistricting process.
The new system would be nonpartisan as in order for any plan to be approved at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two unaffiliated members of the commission must vote in favor of the redistricting plan. The new plan is also designed to be transparent by requiring commission records and communications between commissioners be available to the public. The current system is said to lack transparency because members often do not even have enough time to read the bill before it is voted on, and the public is left out completely. An independent commission is not a new idea as California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have successfully been using an independent commission for their redistricting process.
The campaign has not drawn predictions for a new map, as it feels the power to draw the maps should be in the hands of the people. However, the amendment does include provisions to protect minority voting power and to protect the integrity of cities and communities. Current districts are claimed to have been drawn for strictly political gain. Shepard points to districts 5, 33, and 34 as obvious examples of gerrymandering. District 34 combines a very urban area with a farming area close to Kankakee. A representative cannot truly represent his or her constituents when the interests of their constituents are so varied.
In order for the initiative to be placed on the November 2014 ballot, the campaign needs over 298,000 valid signatures by the first of April. The campaign does not release specific numbers, but the campaign manager stated that they are currently on pace to reach the overall goal. Volunteers will continue to collect signatures even after the goal is reached, so the campaign will be prepared to face any legal challenge of signatures.
Diane Wilhite chairs Champaign’s group of volunteer, and she has personally collected over 1000 signatures. According to Wilhite, the reception from the Champaign community has been great. “About one third of people grab the petition from my hands to sign before I even get to explain it. I would say 80% plus are very positive and sign with minimal discussion,” Wilhite said. She has personally only met two people who were actually against the petition. Locally, the News Gazette, the League of Women Voters, and the Chamber of Commerce have all helped spread the word.
There are multiple ways people in the C-U community can get involved if they, like Shepard, feel “this is the answer to a lot of what's wrong.” First, people can sign a petition by going to the Champaign Chamber of Commerce at 303 W. Kirby, Champaign. Petitions are also available to be signed at the following local businesses: Blossom Basket Florists, RE/MAX, Dick Van Dyke Appliances and Carter's Furniture.
First: You must be an Illinois registered voter in order to sign.
Second: People can request petitions and route them by visiting their Get Involved page. Any U.S. resident over 18 years of age may circulate petitions.
Third: Organizations can contact YesToMaps@yahoo.com and request a volunteer to speak and gather signatures. Other options include liking the campaign on Facebook, following them on twitter, or making a contribution.
There is a about a month and a half until the April 1st deadline. If the campaign fails to get enough signatures, voters will not be able to vote for the amendment come November. If the amendment ends up passing, it will be state law, whether politicians like it or not.
Illinois legislative district map found here.
All other images found through the Yes for Independent Maps website and Facebook page