Important Message about Redistricting in Illinois — Yikes! The new proposal makes things worse


For a few months now, I’ve been sending you e-mails about the Put-Back Amendment, a citizen-initiated amendment to provide term limits and comprehensive reform of the General Assembly. I encourage you to keep sending in signed petitions to help me get the 500,000 signatures to get this on the ballot. However, that is not the reason for my e-mail today.

Yesterday, the state Senate passed a constitutional amendment and sent it over to the House for consideration concerning redistricting. The bill is SJRCA121 and dubbed “the Citizens First Amendment”. The Senate Democrats say this amendment provides redistricting reform. You can read the text of the amendment here:

Like voters across the political spectrum, I am concerned about redistricting and how it is done today. I didn’t think it could be made worse. It has. SJRCA121 represents not only maintaining the status quo, but it further consolidates power among leadership and removes the few protections citizens have now.

First, “Citizen’s First” removes contiguity as a requirement for legislative districts. What this means is that districts no longer have to be continuous, or in “one piece” as far as state law is concerned. At least now, gerrymandered districts have to be in one piece… without contiguity as a requirement, gerrymandering could be far worse. For instance, a majority party could draw a district that contains only the residences of the other party in a district that is 90% in favor of the majority party and simply draw the other party out of existence entirely.

I did a quick review of the state constitutions of the 50 states. Illinois would be the ONLY state not to require contiguity. In fact, nowhere in the Western world are districts drawn that are non-contiguous. Even South American banana republics draw their legislative districts contiguously.

Surely, someone could file suit to challenge redistricting like this you say? “Citizens First” however, limits who can file suit to challenge redistricting. In fact, only one person would be allowed under the state constitution to sue if the maps broke state law… the Attorney General. Do any of you think Lisa Madigan will sue dear old dad over redistricting? Me either. Illinois would be the ONLY state in the entire country that only allows the Attorney General to sue to protect the rights of citizens under redistricting. Here is the text from Citizens First that accomplishes this:

“(h) The Supreme Court shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction over actions concerning redistricting the House and Senate, which shall be initiated in the name of the People of the State by the Attorney General.”

Lastly, “Citizens First” allows a simply majority of a chamber to draw their own map without any input from the other party, citizens or another branch of government. We would be the only state in the union that allows the majority party unfettered ability to draw maps without any input from anyone else.

Friends, make no mistake, this amendment which passed on a party-line vote in the Senate represents a worst-case scenario for reasonable redistricting reform. Under the guise of reform, it shamelessly grabs more power and removes the few protections that are present today.

It is not too late to stop this amendment. Please call your state representative and tell them to oppose the Orwellian “Citizens First” Amendment. Real redistricting reform cannot be achieved by further disenfranchising voters and no one who claims to be a reformer can honestly vote for this. You can find contact information for your state representatives here:

Likely “Citizens First” will come up for a vote in the State House of Representatives next week. Time is of the essence and together we need to stand united against this corrupt and cynical attempt to seize complete control under the guise of “reform”.

Thank you for your support and attention. If you are circulating Put-Back Amendment petitions, please have them postmarked by April 19, 2010.

John Bambenek
Political Director, Main Street Campaigns

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