Illinois House backs Democratic redistricting amendment

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Democratic bid to transfer the highly coveted political power of drawing legislative boundaries from state lawmakers to the Democratically controlled Illinois Supreme Court overwhelmingly passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The proposed amendment to Illinois’ constitution sailed through the House on a 105-7 vote and now must be approved by a three-fifths majority in the state Senate by Friday in order to be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Since Democrats controlled the state legislature and the governor’s office after the 2010 census, they won the once-a-decade right to draw new legislative district boundaries. The process enabled the party to build super-majorities in both the Senate and House.

“The power we presently have is only to protect incumbents,” said Representative Jack Franks, a Democrat from Chicago’s far northwest suburbs who sponsored the amendment.

Republican Governor Bruce Rauner campaigned to take away legislative redistricting responsibilities from the General Assembly but instead backs a different proposal.

Under Franks’ plan, the Illinois Supreme Court would appoint an eight-member redistricting commission to oversee the drawing of 118 House districts and 59 state Senate districts beginning with the 2022 elections.

Critics disliked how Franks’ amendment mutes the General Assembly’s voice in the process.

“What’s dangerous about what we’re doing (is that) we as a legislative branch are ceding our authority to a co-equal branch of government,” said Representative Christian Mitchell, a Chicago Democrat who voted against the amendment.

If the plan clears the Senate, the result could be two competing redistricting proposals on the fall ballot, a scenario Rauner has warned would confuse voters.

The initiative Rauner backs is being pushed by a bipartisan coalition that includes Republican former Governor Jim Edgar and former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, brother and son of two of Chicago’s longest-serving Democratic mayors.

That group, known as Independent Maps, proposes a system where a bi-partisan, 11-member commission would be stocked through a random and public screening process overseen by the state auditor general from a pool of 100 finalists.

Reporting by Dave McKinney; Editing by David Gregorio