Teaching the 2016 Election: A Called Third Strike for Redistricting Reform in Illinois

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

In working our way down the proverbial ballot for the election two months from tomorrow, it was my intention to conclude with a redistricting reform initiative likely to appear at the bottom of it. However, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the proposed amendment on constitutional grounds, sending supporters back to the drawing board.

A little history is in order, but first an acknowledgement that the McCormick Foundation has supported these reform efforts financially, and our Board Chairman Dennis Fitzsimmons led the 2016 Independent Maps coalition.

A handful of states have taken the responsibility of drawing legislative districts from their legislators and placed it in the hands of independent commissions. Illinois has attempted to join these ranks three times, each effort ending in failure and frustration.

In 2010, supporters failed to gather the requisite number of signatures, equivalent to 8% of the votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the preceding election (see Illinois Constitution, Article XIV, Section 3).

Four years later, proponents reached the nominal signature threshold, but failed to have enough of them validated by the State Board of Elections. Moreover, a district court judge ruled the amendment’s language went beyond the bounds of the Illinois Constitution, which restricts citizen initiatives to structural and procedural matters relating to the legislature. The amendment forbade redistricting commission members from running for the Illinois General Assembly for ten years.

Fast forward to 2016, the signature bar was cleared with distance to spare. Problems arose when the inevitable legal challenge surfaced, once more claiming that the proposed amendment went beyond constitutional parameters, this time involving the Inspector General and Supreme Court in determining the composition of the redistricting commission. Both the Cook County and Illinois Supreme Court concurred, effectively ending the third chapter of what may become a decade-long push for redistricting reform.

The Independent Maps coalition has filed an appeal for reconsideration, along with further guidance on how future efforts might effectively thread the needle. As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not responded, but we are left as educators with another teachable moment.

We'll return on Monday with further resources to teach legislative redistricting.

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