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Illinois Redistricting Process Will Not Change After Two Competing Plans Fail

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Illinois's widely criticized redistricting process will be in place for yet another cycle, as the two leading proposals for reforming the process both fell short.

In the House, a measure sponsored by State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie came up a few votes short of the three-fifths majority required to pass a constitutional amendment. A similar measure sponsored in the Senate by Kwame Raoul had narrowly passed days earlier.

Republican leaders preferred a plan put forth by the Illinois Fair Map Coalition; this plan sought to avoid the legislature by getting 288,000 signatures, so it could be placed directly on the ballot in November. The coalition will not come close to that number, according to its website: "The initiative simply did not have enough time, enough petition passers or enough money to do what needed to be done in the field."

Under the current system, an eight-member committee is drafted by the legislature to create a redistricting plan, which must be approved by at least five of its members. Four members come from each party. If the committee fails to reach a consensus, a tie-breaking ninth member (either Democrat or Republican) is selected literally out of a hat -- a replica of Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat, to be precise -- by the Supreme Court.

In each of the last three redistricting sessions (1981, 1991 and 2001), this random deadlock-breaker was required.

Both plans would have revamped the system for drawing new legislative districts, but in both cases, the devil proved to be in the details.

Under the plan pushed by the Democrats, and spearheaded by Raoul and Currie, the full House and Senate would vote on recommendations made by a 10-member commission. But Republicans objected to the notion that lawmakers would be responsible for drawing their own districts.

Currie took issue with that criticism, as The Telegraph reports:

"I would have thought in fact that leaving the decision in the hands of 177 people who are elected by the geographic diversity that is the state of Illinois is more democratic than giving it instead to the hands of four legislative leaders," Currie said.

Still, she failed to win enough opposition support to get the measure through the House.

Democrats were skeptical of the Fair Map Coalition's redistricting proposal, on the other hand, because they believed it didn't give strong enough protections to minority rights. While Republican leaders had suggested they'd be open to amending the plan, any changes would have meant starting from zero in the signature-gathering process.

In the end, with the deadline for constitutional amendments fast approaching and no new alternatives on the horizon, it appears we'll be back to the stovepipe hat in 2011.