Half a Million Residents Seek a Vote on Gerrymandering

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Byline: Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- With the help of wealthy donors and a bipartisan group of politicians, a petition to end the gerrymandering of Illinois election districts was presented Thursday, but it faces a stiff constitutional challenge that could keep the question off the November ballot.

A group called "Yes for Independent Maps" submitted more than half a million signatures to the state Board of Elections, proposing a ballot question that would take the job of creating legislative districts away from lawmakers and give it to an independent commission of experts.

It faces powerful opposition, including a lawsuit filed Wednesday by allies of House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state Democratic Party chairman, which also seeks to stop voters from imposing term limits in Illinois.

Advocates of reform say the current method of allowing politicians to draw the state's political maps leads to the majority party in Springfield unfairly accumulating power that can last a decade, by adjusting a district's lines to protect incumbents and limit votes for political foes. Democrats now hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, partly due to maps their party drew after the 2010 census.

"Democrats have done it. Republicans have done it. If they didn't do it, we would think something was in the water in Springfield," said Mike Kolenc, the campaign's manager. "We really feel that this will actually allow voters to choose their legislators, rather than the other way around."

The initiative would set up an 11-member commission to draw the maps, similar to recent reforms in California and Arizona. The group has 532,000 signatures, but only needs about 300,000 to get the proposal on the general election ballot. …