Unlike other states, Illinois makes it hard to get measures on ballot.
In gridlocked political systems across the country, publicly supported ballot measures are the way citizens are changing government, but states such as Illinois make even the most popular changes difficult.
Republicans have gubernatorial and legislative control of 23 state governments and Democrats six. The other 21 states either have to rely on their politicians to avoid political gridlock or pass ballot initiatives, a public choice given to voters during an election. In states such as California, voters can approve laws, change their Constitution and even veto a bill.
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Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Steven Malanga said Illinoisans don't share those freedoms. "In places like Illinois, most ballot initiatives have to go through the legislature," Malanga said. "If you're trying to do something that the legislature doesn't want you to do, you don't have much of a chance in those states."
Illinoisans can only bypass Springfield by changing Illinois' Constitution. The Fair Maps Amendment wants to do just that by putting the legislative map-making process into nonpartisan hands, instead of whatever party is in control at the turn of the decade. A private group called The People’s Map is challenging the initiative, saying it violates the Voting Rights Act of the U.S Constitution. The court case is being managed by attorney Michael Kasper, a longtime ally of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s (D-Dist. 22).
Term-limits advocate Bob Costello said entrenched politicians typically kill popular initiatives from making the ballot via the courts. "It's a wink and a nod,” Costello said. “ You're not going to find a memo anywhere detailing how to do it, but they know what (Madigan) wants. These are the exact things that the 1970 Constitution included to provide. It's clear that these are reforms that the citizens would like to see done."
Not all ballot initiatives are struck down in Illinois' court system. A constitutional amendment has recently gained access to the coming November ballot. A question as to whether Illinois' transportation budget should be protected and not spent on other measures will be the first question voters answer this fall. The initiative was led by a bipartisan group that included labor unions and the construction industry.
Malanga said the combination of required lawmaker approval and legislative districts that protect them from competitive elections can make changes such as term limits nearly impossible.
"The idea that the ballot-initiative process should be limited to something that the legislature must approve undermines the whole purpose of a ballot initiative," Malanga said.
Malanga said most of the current ballot measures aimed at the November election nationwide are Democrat-led questions about raising their states’ minimum wage.