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State election board deals blow to redistricting amendment group

SPRINGFIELD-A bid to change the Illinois constitution to take political mapmaking out of the hands of state lawmakers faces trouble after state election authorities Tuesday found less than half of the signatures gathered by supporters on petitions were valid.

In a sampling of 5 percent of the total signatures submitted to the State Board of Elections, only 46 percent were deemed legible and from registered voters by state election officials, said Rupert Borgsmiller, the election board’s executive director.

That validity rate, if applied as the law allows to the 507,467 signatures gathered by those advocating for a depoliticized mapmaking process, would leave the movement well short of the 298,400-signature threshold they need to get their constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

In order to qualify for the ballot, based on the total number of signatures filed, those in the independent mapmaking movement would need a validity rate of about 59 percent.

Michael Kolenc, campaign manager for Yes! for Independent Maps, voiced shock that such a large percentage of signatures would be thrown on the scrapheap by the State Board of Elections.

“It was absolutely surprising to see the state get a validity rate that was way below what the campaign believes our validity rate is,” he said. “We ran a professional operation, one which we were able to ascertain on a daily basis what our good versus bad signatures were.

“Having the state tell us we have 46 percent valid signatures leads me to believe the process was flawed,” Kolenc said.

His group wants to establish an independent commission that would be tasked with drawing the boundaries from which state legislators and congressmen and women run. The process now is controlled by whichever party controls the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

Kolenc’s organization now has seven business days to go through the 13,807 signatures that the state board deemed invalid and attempt to prove they are, in fact, the names of registered voters who live at the address they indicated on the group’s petitions.

“We’ll be on the ballot in November,” he said.

Borgsmiller said the State Board of Elections could make a final determination on whether the group’s constitutional amendment will be on the ballot as early as its July 21 board meeting in Springfield.

Borgsmiller also defended the process his staff used in analyzing signatures submitted by Yes! for Independent Maps, a process in which those who both favor and oppose the amendment were permitted to observe.

“I do know they’ve raised concerns about the process we have in place. I understand that. But everything we’ve done, we provide daily those signatures that were invalid to both proponents and opponents,” Borgsmiller said. “If you didn’t have a watcher here, you got a report, and it indicated why we invalidated a signature. Then they have the petition, they can go look at their petition and see why it was invalidated by the staff.”

Borgsmiller’s staff now will begin analyzing signatures submitted by an organization supported by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner, who is pushing a constitutional amendment that would impose eight-year term limits on legislators, reshape the size of the General Assembly and make legislative overrides of gubernatorial vetoes more difficult.

Borgsmiller said that process may take until the end of the month to get a sense of what percentage of the term-limit group’s petition signatures are valid.