Senate Republicans unveil Legislation Designed to Return Power to Voters

Illinois voters have had their voices repeatedly ignored and diminished by lawmakers and Governors from the supermajority party. Popular referendums have been shut down in court, efforts to establish redistricting reforms have been blocked, and sweeping changes to laws have been pushed through in the middle of the night with little to no transparency.

Members of the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus, however, are working to put the power back where it belongs, in the hands of the people of the state. The aptly named “Voter Empowerment Project” contains several constitutional amendments to allow citizens to take back control of their democracy and hold corrupt politicians accountable.

Unveiled by Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie (Hawthorn Woods) earlier this week, the package of legislation contains five state constitutional amendments tailored to increase the voice of voters.

SJRCA 13 would help end the practice of partisan gerrymandering in Illinois. During the last year, citizens watched as legislative Democrats rammed through extremely partisan legislative, Congressional, and judicial maps, all swiftly signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker. The new proposal would take the power out of lawmakers’ hands by creating an independent redistricting commission made up of 17 commissioners, including seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and three independents, chosen by the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the most senior Supreme Court Justice from the opposite party.

SJRCA 14 is designed to allow citizens to initiate referendums to make substantial changes to the state Constitution. Currently, the Constitution places overly strict limits on what changes can be made by voters, which has stalled many popular referendums, including redistricting reform efforts. The new proposal would give the people of Illinois much more broad authority on what can be changed via referendum, including subjects such as taxes and redistricting.

SJRCA 15 would further enhance the power of popular referendums, and is in direct to response to the recent practice of controversial legislation being rammed through by supermajority lawmakers in the middle of the night with little transparency. Many controversial changes, including tax hikes and sweeping criminal justice changes, have been passed by so-called “lame-duck” legislatures, made up of retiring lawmakers and those who have already lost reelection campaigns, who are no longer accountable to voters.

The new proposal would allow citizens to initiate up-or-down referendums on newly-passed laws. This important change would make sure that voters have the final say on what actions lawmakers take, and would provide an important check on a runaway supermajority party.

SJRCA 16 would provide a mechanism to recall many corrupt state and local elected officials. Illinois voters, more so than the residents of most states, have repeatedly witnessed reports of wrongdoing by their elected representatives, from ethics convictions to bribery and even theft of public funds. Under current law, only the Governor of Illinois may be recalled by citizens, and restrictions in place make it all but impossible to actually undertake. The new proposal would provide a reasonable system, with moderate requirements, for the recall process, and would expand it to state constitutional officers, legislative leaders, members of the General Assembly, and local government officials.

Senator Plummer, a cosponsor of the package, says that he believes that the Voter Empowerment Project is a desperately needed step to undo years of elected officials ignoring the will of the people. These Constitutional amendments would finally put the citizens back in the driver’s seat to hold their elected officials, especially corrupt politicians, accountable.

Jason Plummer

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