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Oh, that was awkward: redistricting debate in Chicago

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You have to give Mary Schaafsma and Illinois Senator Kwame Raoul credit: they knew it was going to be spicy and they still showed up. At a forum at the University Center in downtown Chicago, Schaasfma, from the League of Women Voters of Illinois, presented the rough outline of a constitutional amendment to change the way state legislative boundaries are drawn. (It was endorsed by some reform groups and Republican leaders in Springfield.) Raoul, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, responded to that proposal, and offered up some elements of an amendment he intends to introduce on behalf of Senate Democrats. (I’m told this could be introduced as early as Thursday.)

When Schaafsma was talking, Raoul sat poker-faced, except for a few times when he smiled and nodded, as if Schaasfma was making his case for him. When Raoul talked, Schaafsma took notes, or stared into the distance with pursed lips. I even saw one eye roll. They shook hands afterward. I did a story on the continuing debate, but four minutes of radio doesn’t touch the complexities of this issue or some of the differences between the proposals. So here you go, a reading list for those yearning to digest the ins-and-outs of redistricting: History The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute published this primer back in 2005 (PDF) Current procedure Article IV, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution (link) Proposal from the League of Women Voters of Illinois Text of the amendment (link) Some folks I’ve talked to have emphasized the long odds facing the citizens’ initiative. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Signatures: The organizers need to collect “at least eight percent of the total votes cast for candidates for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election" and turn them in before May 2nd (“six months before that general election"). By my math, that’s about 280,000 signatures.
  • Signature challenges: Especially if Democrats are able to get through the legislature a competing proposal, the League’s signatures are likely to be challenged. That’s why the League wants to collect a half-million signatures.
  • Legal challenge: There’s some question of the constitutionality of the constitutional amendment. That’s because initiative-driven “amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV." Organizers think they’ve drafted the proposal in a way that’ll stand up to a legal challenge, but the Illinois Supreme Court’s been very picky about this in the past. (IGPA PDF, page 25)

Proposal from Senate Democrats Here’s a chart circulated by the caucus comparing the League’s proposal to the one Senate Democrats intend to introduce this week (PDF). To get on the ballot, this needs to pass both the House and Senate by a three-fifths vote by May 2nd. Democrats currently hold that advantage in the Senate, but are one short in the House. Voters get their say And then, after all that, any proposal would still need to be OKed by voters on November 2nd (“by three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election").

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