There are more questions
than answers as the state legislative
map-drawing drama unfolds.
When the coronavirus pandemic — and subsequent economic lockdowns — hit in March 2020, few could have predicted the length and breadth of this public health disaster.
The impact has been dramatic, even threatening super-majority Springfield Democrats’ plans to draw new legislative maps that will maintain their power through 2032.
The pandemic adversely impacted the federal government’s ability to conduct the decennial census. Consequently, the new census numbers that are required to draw legally sufficient maps for the Illinois state house and U.S. House seats are not yet available.
Facing a June 30 deadline to draw the new legislative maps themselves, legislative Democrats appear determined to plow ahead without them by using estimates.
Shrugging off the census mandate, however, is easier said than done. Litigation is inevitable, the results unknowable and the timetable unpredictable.
The most important thing for the public to remember is that it’s solely about power — who wields it and who doesn’t.
Democrats exclusively hold power in Springfield, and Republicans would like a piece of it. That requires each side to manipulate the redistricting process to its advantage — if possible.
To do so, Democrats must use estimates to gerrymander the maps in their favor. The GOP, naturally, is opposed, because if the Dems can’t meet the June 30 deadline, the Illinois Constitution requires appointment of an eight-member committee — four Ds and four Rs — to do it.
That would give the Rs equal footing with the Ds. If that bipartisan group failed to agree on new maps, the Illinois Constitution mandates a random chance drawing to pick either a D or an R to determine the ninth and tiebreaking member.
So, as a consequence of the pandemic and its impact on the census, the Rs could go from having zero influence on the maps to having a 50 percent chance of drawing the maps themselves.
No wonder Democratic legislative leaders are determined to use estimates.
But there are two big problems: The law appears to require use of the census numbers, and the source of the estimates — the American Community Survey — is not necessarily accurate. ACS gets its numbers from contacts with an estimated 3.5 million households each year, not block-by-block counting of state residents.
The Democrats deserve no opprobrium for their approach. If roles were reversed, Republicans would do the same thing.
But what’s deemed necessary by members of a political party doesn’t necessarily comport with what the law commands.
Even if the drafters of the Illinois Constitution did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic, they contemplated the failure to meet the June 30 deadline by outlining further procedures.
That’s where the bipartisan eight-member commission and the drawing-by-chance of a tiebreaking ninth member come into the picture.
Circumstances may not get to that point, but Illinois appears on the verge of a political pot boiler.