Area residents will get their chance this
week to speak out about how new state legislative and congressional maps are drawn this spring.
But they’ll be speaking about an amorphous concept, because there are no maps to review. There isn’t even 2020 Census data on which to base a map. That isn’t scheduled to be released by the Census Bureau until sometime in late August, the Illinois House redistricting committee was told last week. Normally, that information would be available now, but it’s been delayed because of the pandemic.
That creates a problem in Illinois, where the state constitution requires the Legislature to come up with a redistricting plan by June 30. The Illinois Constitution offers some relief in terms of an eight-member commission — also made up of legislators — that would be appointed and have until Aug. 10 to come up with a plan. That also means going without census data.
The next — and last constitutionally written — option is the appointment of a ninth member to the commission. Historically, the selection of that ninth member is a matter of chance, his or her name being drawn from Abraham Lincoln’s hat. In that case, the map could be submitted as late as Oct. 5.
Democrats, the majority party in the Legislature, don’t want the process to go that far. They want to pass new maps by June 30, relying on American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau (which does not come from the 2020 Census) or other information.
“We’re in a situation where we want to comply with our constitutional mandate, which we took an oath to comply with, and we don’t want to just leave the drawing of the maps to chance,” said Rep. Jay Hoffman, a veteran Democratic lawmaker from Swansea.
Representatives of good-government groups say there’s an alternative: Ask the courts for a delay in the redistricting process so that the new maps are based on Census data. And, if needed, pass legislation to push back next year’s
March 15 primary.
“Our frustration has been that there is a third option here, which is to seek relief from the courts so that we can wait for the complete census data and do this with full transparency and accountability and make sure that every voice is heard and every person counted,” said Madeline Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, a nonpartisan organization that has promoted congressional and legislative maps drawn by a group of independent of legislators.
Ideally, Doubek said, citizens would have input both before the maps are drawn and after they’ve been submitted.
“People absolutely need to see map proposal weeks before votes are taken and they need the opportunity to weigh in at additional public hearings after the maps are made public,” she said.
Any maps not based on 2020 Census data “would likely be challenged by negatively affected communities” in the courts, said Georgia Logothetis, assistant director of Common Cause Illinois.
“A final map must be a fair map,” she said. “That means that any map must accurately reflect our state today, especially those communities of color and other demographic groups that have traditionally been underrepresented at all levels of government. In our view, such a map cannot be drafted without the comprehensive and highly accurate data provided by the 2020 Census.”
ACS data, she argued, looks at groups of between 600 and 3,000 people and is inferior when looking at rural areas and communities of less than 65,000.
Logothetis said “there’s no reason why the General Assembly should try to fashion a map from a mix of ACS estimates and projections when just by waiting a little bit, we can have that superior data available.”
But Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said he wants the Legislature to complete the map-making process by June 30. That’s how it was done in 2011, when citizens got a chance to give input before the maps were developed but not after they were released.
The House Redistricting Committee has scheduled a virtual hearing on legislative and congressional boundaries in the Champaign-Urbana area for noon Thursday.
To participate, file a witness slip at my.ilga.gov/Hearing/Hearing
To watch the hearing, go to Virtual Room 2 at ilga.gov/houseaudvid.asp.
A day later, the Senate Redistricting Committee will hold a similar hearing at 3 p.m. in Virtual Room 1. More details are available at https://bit.ly/SenateRemapHearing.
Republicans, as so often is the case for the minority party in Illinois, can only lob complaints. But GOP skepticism about the redistricting process abounds.
“I question how much that public input could potentially go into drawing the maps that are most likely going to be drawn behind closed doors,” said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. “And I don’t hold out hope it will change the mindset of the majority in subjecting Illinoisans to another 10 years of partisan political maps.”