Illinois has a history of machine politics going back, well, a long way. As Illinoisans, we’re all too familiar with the corruption of our own state. Some have just accepted the closed doors and gridlock as part of living in the state, but my fellow activists and I have found hope in the benefits of ranked choice voting.
We didn’t start from nothing. In the early 2000s, then State Senator Barack Obama introduced ranked choice voting legislation to the Illinois General Assembly. In 2017, State Senator and later gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss introduced a bill to bring ranked choice voting to all Illinois state elections. Neither bill gained any momentum.
But now, just two years later, our team has gotten some legislative traction. State Senator Laura Murphy has introduced SB 2267 and activists rallied around it, winning the cosponsorship of three other State Senators so far, as well as a potential House sponsor.
We modeled our grassroots Illinois coalition after other successful efforts. The propelling groups are the Illinoisans for Ranked Choice Voting and FairVote Illinois, and allies have been found in members from RepresentUs and the League of Women Voters.
While we’ve learned as much as we can from the successes of other groups, we found early on that Illinois presents a challenge not encountered by other state groups.
Ballot measures, a common tool for ranked choice voting activists, are infeasible in Illinois. The process is so difficult that only one citizen initiative to change Illinois law has ever passed. This means that ranked choice voting can’t happen without political buy-in from legislators and stakeholders.
Illinois also poses a challenge due to its large population. We have almost ten times the population of Maine where ranked choice voting first won in 2016 and twice the population of Massachusetts where Voter Choice Massachusetts is making a strong bid for victory in the next few years. We have 3 million more people than New York City, the most recent big victory for the ranked choice voting movement.
And as an organizer tasked with driving across the state to meetings, I can say firsthand that Illinois’ geographical size — bigger than Massachusetts and Maine combined — doesn’t help.
Despite these challenges, we’re not slowing down. We continue to rake in endorsements from community groups and co-sponsorships on legislation. We’re blazing a new path to victory in our state, but we learned early on that we have to be ready to learn, adapt, and relearn if we’re going to break our state out of its political slump and win the democracy we deserve.
If SB 2267 passes committee, it will likely be voted on in the Illinois State Senate before May of 2020.