Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).

Illinois Democrats seem determined to draw new congressional and legislative district maps without using the delayed — yet valuable — information that will come later this summer from the 2020 Census.

That was made clear Thursday by state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who was one of the disappointingly few participants in an Illinois House hearing on new boundaries for districts, including her own in Champaign-Urbana.

“We want to make sure that every single person ... is not only represented and counted but that we also meet our legal obligations as a state legislative body,” Ammons said. “I understand that people are having discussions about which set of data we should use. However that data is selected and chosen, however it comes out from these discussions, what is most important is that the legislative body meets its legal obligations to provide a map at the time that we are supposed to by state statute.”

Those are the talking points of Democrats who want to use their overwhelming legislative majorities to push through new congressional and legislative district maps by June 30, ignoring all the data collected in last year’s count. But the Illinois Constitution gives the process until Oct. 5 to play itself out.

Many others would differ with Ammons. They have said in legislative hearings this spring that what is vital is that the state use the most complete and accurate data available: that from the 2020 Census.

It’s what Gloria Yen, director of the New American Welcome Center at the University YMCA, told the redistricting committee. She testified that Champaign County has some 25,000 foreign-born residents from more than 150 countries.

“Between April of 2019 and September of 2020, we worked really, really hard for a fair census count — during a global pandemic, as you all know, no less — to create an accurate picture of our community that is inclusive of historically undercounted communities,” Yen said. “We wanted to

make sure that whether folks were foreign-born, racial or ethnic minorities, limited English proficiency, low income, renters, children under 5, people living in multifamily housing, we wanted to make sure there was a fair and accurate count.”

She noted that 51 percent of Champaign County’s foreign-born population entered the U.S. after the 2010 Census and should be accounted for in the 2020 Census and in redistricting.

Illinois, she said, appropriated $29 million in state funds to ensure an accurate population count, and said the state “made the highest per capita investment in census efforts in the nation.”

Yen called on legislators to wait and use the full Census data for redistricting. She also urged them to hold public hearings on maps once they are completed, not just as they are being developed.

Both requests have been made by reform groups. Majority Democrats have been noncommittal.

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“I’m here today to ask that you see that commitment through and you steward the deposit of trust in government that folks made in completing the census and to not only allow redistricting efforts to be informed by block-level census data from the (Census) Bureau that will be released by September but to also engage in ongoing participatory input from communities after the proposed maps are drawn,” Yen said.

Democrats appear to be willing to use American Community Survey estimates from the Census Bureau for redistricting, data that is dated and imprecise.

Yen said that Champaign-

Urbana “looks very, very different today than it looked

10 years ago, or even five years ago. And I believe that everyone deserves to be counted and to be accounted for in redistricting efforts.”

That was just what Republicans, as well as good-government groups, wanted to hear.

“We did spend great treasure, both federal and state monies, to make sure that everyone to the best of our ability was counted in the Census,” said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. “If we aren’t going to use that effort to draw legislative and congressional maps, we’ve largely wasted that money.”

The Illinois Constitution does not require that Census Bureau data be used to draw new legislative and congressional boundaries. But it comes very close, linking redistricting with the Census:

“In the year following each Federal decennial census year, the General Assembly by law shall redistrict the Legislative Districts and the Representative Districts.”

This issue can be distilled to one question: What’s the use of redistricting if you don’t use the superior data from the federal decennial census?

Setting the record straight. Apologies to Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, whose name I misspelled in last week’s column.

Tom Kacich’s column appears Sundays in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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