The petitions being circulated are more complicated than usual.
"That's why I don't start by talking about re-districting, which is kind of a difficult concept. What I start with is, 'Do you want to change how they do business in Springfield?'" said Greg Pierce, petition circulator.
If circulators like Pierce and many others around the state can get 280,000 registered voters to sign by May 2nd the fair map amendment will appear on the November ballot. If voters approve it, it will take away the power from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other legislative leaders of both parties to draw the boundary lines for state representatives and senators.
"What they get to do right now, is gerrymander- or what I call Madigan-mander- these districts so they get to pick the people that vote for them rather than the other way around," said Pierce.
The amendment would set up an independent panel to re-draw the boundaries after the 2010 census and every 10 years into the future. Currently, state house and senate leaders negotiate the boundaries in private. Critics say they have an eye toward maintaining the status quo.
"These districts are drawn to protect incumbents and to resist challenges by independent-thinking people," said Patrick Collins, Illinois Reform Commission. "If there is anything we need in Illinois, Charles, it's independent thought.
Republican leaders want the general assembly to call for the constitutional amendment and make the citizen's petition drive unnecessary.
"This map drawn by people no in the process could benefit democrats, could benefit republicans. At the end of the day, what's the best map for the people of the state of Illinois?" said House Minority Leader Rep. Tom Cross, (R).
"This is a real change in the political culture of Illinois in terms of taking it away from incumbents, whether they are Republicans or Democrats," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, (R).
But Democrats-- who control both chambers of the general assembly and possibly the governor's office next year-- have shown no interest in changing the current system. That's why reformers believe the petition drive offers the best chance for change."Citizens can actually sign a petition and it has to go on the ballot. Now, the politicians could put this on the ballot anytime they want to. But they don't. And they won't. So we're going to do it," said
To get 280,000 valid signatures, the circulators believe they will have to get as many 350,000 people to sign their petitions. The effort is sponsored by the League Of Women Voters and virtually every government reform and watchdog group in the state. Those interested in circulating petitions or signing one can contact the League of Women Voters in Illinois.
League of Women Voters of Illinois
332 South Michigan Ave. #1150
Chicago, IL 60604-4422
Phone: 312-939-5935 ext. 39