- Associated Press - Saturday, June 28, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - A group seeking to amend the Illinois constitution to strip politics from the process of drawing legislative boundaries is pledging to refine over the next several years what they acknowledge was a flawed proposal.

Deborah Harrington, the leader of the organization Yes for Independent Maps, has pledged to “put the lessons learned in this campaign and from the judge’s ruling to good use.”

That contrasts with the reaction of another group pushing for a referendum whose term limits proposal was also removed from the ballot Friday by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva.

The term limits group chaired by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner vowed an immediate appeal as it decried what it described as political influence from heavily Democratic Cook County - allegations Democrats dismissed.

But Yes for Independent Maps’ response was reflective of the multifaceted problems with the redistricting proposal, and the amount of time that is still on the group’s side to change the state’s politically driven mapmaking process.

The ballot proposal would have taken the once-a-decade redistricting process out of the hands of lawmakers and created an 11-member commission to draw the boundaries of legislative districts.

The current redistricting process is considered politically prickly, with stalemates between Democrats and Republicans broken when a name drawn from a hat tips the scales in favor of one party to approve their boundaries of choice.

In 2011, Democrats - who continue to control both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor’s mansion - were able to push through a map politically advantageous to the party without any Republican cooperation.

Republicans later sued, claiming the map violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the effort was tossed by a panel of federal judges.

Even before Mikva’s ruling, the Yes for Independent Maps group, which spent $3 million on the effort over the past two years, ran into problems with the Illinois State Board of Elections. The board questioned the number of valid signatures the group had collected to get the proposal on the ballot, and declined to extend deadlines they had set for the group.

Mikva ruled that one element of the proposed constitutional amendment - prohibiting commissioners from holding elected office for 10 years after being a commissioner - violated a requirement that changes to the constitution must be both structural and procedural by limiting the political activities of the panel members.

However, she said “a differently drafted redistricting initiative” could have been found valid.

Lawyers involved with the redistricting effort told The Associated Press on Saturday that they considered an appeal, but decided a fresh attempt stood a better chance.

The next redistricting effort will begin following the 2020 census.

“We still have at least two more statewide elections - in 2016 and 2018 - to bring a redistricting amendment before voters and an opportunity to revise the language to address Judge Mikva’s objections,” Harrington said. She noted that redistricting measures other states, including California, required multiple attempts before they became reality.

The experience, Harrington said, “will make us better prepared to win the next campaign to give voters an opportunity to have a voice in the redistricting process.”


Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter, https://twitter.com/kerrylester

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