Illinois Senate Republicans hope to pass ‘voter empowerment’ plans this spring

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie talks Tuesday about a package of proposed...
Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie talks Tuesday about a package of proposed constitutional amendments to give voters a more active role in state government.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 5:00 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The Illinois Senate Republican Leader hopes to give voters a more active role in state government. Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) has re-introduced several resolutions for constitutional amendments that he argues could lead to a stronger democracy in Illinois.

McConchie says Democratic leaders in Springfield have consistently cut people out of the legislative process when important decisions are made. He feels Illinoisans should have the opportunity to vote for an independent redistricting process. This obviously comes after Democrats recently passed and signed legislative, congressional, and judicial maps into law creating districts for the next decade.

His proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice and longest-serving justice from the opposing party to select 17 commissioners for an independent redistricting commission no later than March 1, 2023. Previous attempts for an independent commission called for redistricting every 10 years. However, this constitutional amendment calls for redrawing legislative and congressional districts for 2024. Only after that point would the redistricting process go back to a ten-year schedule.

Another resolution could allow voters to have more opportunities to circulate petitions to change the Illinois constitution. Although, voters would not have the ability to modify or repeal portions of the Bill of Rights. It also wouldn’t allow voters to change the initiative process for proposing new amendments to the constitution.

McConchie also feels residents should have the opportunity to hold referendums on new laws that may be unpopular. This would basically allow people to support or turn down legislation recently passed and signed into law. Citizens leading referendum efforts would need petitions signed by at least 5% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen the majority party use its supermajorities in the General Assembly not only to push through controversial and extremely partisan legislation but sometimes they do it with little or no notice,” McConchie said. “And sometimes they do it in the middle of the night when nobody, including the members that are voting on it on the floor, have any idea what is actually in the legislation.”

Under Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 15, petitions for a referendum would need to be signed and filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections less than 90 days after a law takes effect. Proposed referendums would only appear before voters if petitions are found valid and sufficient. The specific laws under question would cease to exist if voters reject them at the polls.

The final resolution in the voter empowerment package would allow citizens to recall any of the state’s executive officers, Auditor General, House Speaker, Senate President, state lawmakers, or local elected officials. Illinois law currently only allows for a recall of the governor.

While McConchie hopes to see these plans move forward to provide checks and balances, previous Republican attempts for similar constitutional amendments never received Democratic support.

“I’m sure they will get the appropriate, thorough review,” stated John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon.

Senate Democrats say they would also like to see their colleagues take a more active position on voter empowerment on the national scale. Although, McConchie’s spokesperson says legislation in Washington D.C. is “totally different” than the proposed amendments.

“The national proposal is in regard to the elections process and how people vote. It would determine national voting standards and mandate how people cast their ballots nationwide,” said Ellie Leonard. “Differently, the Illinois Senate Republicans have proposed an expansion of what people can vote on.”

Leonard also noted that McConchie’s ideas could help citizens with more options to voice their opinions at the ballot box.

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