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As Congress debates voting rights bills, Illinois GOP re-introduces 'voter engagement' package

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie holds a press conference on 1/18/22
Maggie Strahan
Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, held a press conference Tuesday to re-introduce the Voter Empowerment Package.

Illinois’ highest-ranking Republican rolled out a familiar package of state constitutional amendments on Tuesday that he says would give more power to voters — just as Congress prepares to debate two voting rights measures opposed by many Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, held a press conference Tuesday to re-introduce the Voter Empowerment Package. The package consists of three constitutional amendments that would, according to McConchie, put more power in the hands of Illinois voters. Republicans, who are the minority in Springfield and haven’t won a statewide race since 2014, unsuccessfully proposed a similar package in 2021.

The constitutional amendments, which begin as joint resolutions to be passed by both the House and the Senate, come in response to what the Republicans believe to be unfairly gerrymandered maps that favor Democrats. One would create an independent redistricting commission; others would expand the use of citizen-initiative amendments and allow for the recall of elected officials.

Under McConchie’s plan, an independent redistricting committee would be installed to redraw legislative maps as early as 2023. This commission would be composed of seven Democratic commissioners, seven Republican commissioners, and three independent commissioners.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully in court to stop the Democrats’ redrawn legislative maps from going into effect following the 2020 census.

“What we need to do is actually have districts that are drawn in a manner that are fair and open, so that people can actually choose whomever they wish to have to represent them, and then be able to hold them accountable,” said McConchie.

Another constitutional amendment would give voters the power to recall an elected official, including state lawmakers. Currently only the governor is subject to recall.

“Simply having a mechanism for the public to be able to weigh in tends to cause legislators and elected officials to be more responsive to their constituents,” McConchie said.

McConchie said the package intends to set up voters as another point of checks and balances in the state’s separation of powers.

The amendments in the package were filed and read into the record last Friday, and Senate Democrats have yet to issue a formal response.

“I’m sure they will get the appropriate, thorough review,” said John Patterson, spokesperson for the Senate Democrats.

Republicans’ attempts to re-introduce their Voter Empowerment Package come as their national GOP colleagues oppose a package of voting rights bills supported by Democrats and being debated Tuesday in the Senate. Democrats say the two measures would make it easier for all Americans to vote and reverse efforts by several states to limit ballot access.

Republicans argue that many of the new laws passed by states are attempts to prevent voter fraud, and that the legislation before Congress amounts to a federal takeover of what has been a state responsibility.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.