SPRINGFIELD — A plan to change how Illinois draws its political boundaries was dealt a setback Thursday when a Democrat-led initiative was narrowly defeated in the House.
The plan fell two votes short of the 71 needed for the proposed constitutional amendment to be placed on the November ballot. Republicans, who are backing a different plan, provided no “yes” votes.
The outcome marks the latest salvo in the once-per-decade battle to divide the state into political districts.
Following each national census, the political map is supposed to be adjusted to make sure each of the state’s Senate and House districts are equal in population.
But, under current rules, the power to draw the boundaries can be decided by a coin flip.
And, current laws allow legislators to have a say in how the boundaries of their own districts are set, essentially allowing politicians choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing who represents them.
Supporters of the proposed amendment said the proposal would have consolidated minority groups and communities into single districts, instead of dividing them into different districts and diluting their influence at the polls.
“This is clearly an improvement,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
“It is better than the status quo,” said state Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat.
Republicans said the Democratic plan was flawed because it allowed lawmakers to still play a role in where district lines are drawn.
“Politicians should not be allowed to run in the districts that they draw. Period,” said state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
Although Gov. Pat Quinn has no formal role in determining whether voters will get to vote on a change to the state constitution, he nonetheless offered up a negative assessment of the Democratic plan Thursday.
“I’m not sure it’s a reform or not, to be honest,” Quinn said at an event near Chicago. “Too often this is an exercise of protecting incumbents of both parties. I don’t think that’s healthy.”
Under a separate GOP-backed constitutional amendment proposal, the redistricting process would be overseen by an independent, bipartisan commission.
Republicans have joined with the Illinois League of Women Voters, the Illinois Farm Bureau and reform groups to try and get the issue placed on the November ballot.
But organizers have just over half the 288,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot. The deadline to submit signatures is May 3.
House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican who has been helping to finance the signature collection effort, said he wasn’t sure the groups would get enough signatures to put the question on the ballot.
“I just don’t honestly know,” Cross said.