Welcome to the Senate Republican Press Search.

View Article Details

Print

US Census data, fairness at center of Illinois redistricting debate

State Journal Register

Monday, April 5, 2021  |  Article  |  Ben Szalinski

Demographics, Census, Statistics , Redistricting (78)

What is considered a fair map, how lawmakers should deal with the Census delay, and what is the best way to draw legislative maps are all questions lawmakers and public advocates are trying to hash out as Illinois prepares to draw legislative boundaries this year.

 

States are required to redraw their legislative districts every 10 years. Illinois' lawmakers handle the redistricting process, which has been the first point of contention with lawmakers and advocates who believe maps should be drawn by an independent commission instead.

 

“When politicians draw the maps, they look out for their own partisan purposes," said state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield. "People know. When they look at these maps they know they have been drawn up for political reasons."

 

An independent process

 

Republican lawmakers have been pushing to create an independent commission to redraw the maps. Last week, they presented Senate Bill 1325 which would allow the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a commission to do redistricting, taking lawmakers out of the process completely. Nonpartisan policy groups also agree independent map-making is the right approach.

 

“(It) is the way it should have been done and ought to be done," said Madeleine Doubek, executive director at CHANGE Illinois.

 

Both Gov. JB Pritzker and Speaker of the House Emanuel "Chris" Welch have voiced support for fair maps or an independent commission. Pritzker remains committed to vetoing a partisan map.

 

More: Illinois Republicans again pitch redistricting plan, public hearings ongoing

 

However, Doubek said she was concerned about having the time to pass this bill and set up a new process. Many Democrats on the House and Senate redistricting committees have been focused on meeting a June 30 deadline the Illinois Constitution requires for lawmakers to pass new maps. If they miss that deadline, it then goes to an independent commission

with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. If they cannot agree on new maps by Aug. 10, the name of a Democrat or Republican is drawn from a stovepipe hat to break the tie by Oct. 5.

 

“It is not my belief that the people of Illinois would rather us have our redistricting on whose name, Republican or Democrat, is pulled out of a top hat," said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.

 

 

The top hat method has been used before. Since Illinois rewrote the constitution in 1970, the maps drawn in 1981, 1991 and 2001 were all decided by the party winning the hat draw.

 

Census delays

 

The 2021 maps have an additional quirk, however. Census data lawmakers normally use, which should have been ready by April 1, is likely not going to be ready until late August. The Democrats have enough votes in the General Assembly to pass maps of their choosing by June 30 without waiting for Census data and say Republicans want to miss the deadline to have more control over the process and leave map-making up to "political insiders."

 

"(Republicans) want the legislature to fail in its constitutional duty to approve a map by June 30 in the cynical hope that it will allow them to grab absolute power of the map making process," said state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago.

 

However, Republicans have argued the purpose of an independent commission is so no party can have power over redistricting. They also say their bill would make the June 30 deadline irrelevant and allow Census data to be used. Some lawmakers have suggested using American Community Survey data to meet the deadline, but other argue that data is incomplete.

 

"It’s a sampling and not a full accounting of everyone who lives in the state. I understand we all have concerns about the accuracy of the Census, but it certainly was an all out effort to make it more complete,” said Doubek. "We don’t elect people based on samples or surveys.”

 

The ACS data is from the Census Bureau and can show population trends. However, it is not as detailed as the full Census. Advocates argue the full Census is needed to properly represent communities.

 

Multiple groups that have testified before House and Senate committees have said they want lawmakers to use the best data available. The Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition said Census data will represent their community and allow lawmakers to consider a map that could give them a district where they can be competitive in legislative elections.

 

Wendy Underhill from the National Conference of State Legislatures told lawmakers they have a few options to deal with the data problem. They could call a special session to make the maps in the summer, and gather public input now while using ACS data to visualize possible maps and use the Census data when it's available.

 

"The Census data is worth the wait," said Georgia Logothetis from Common Cause Illinois.

 

Logothetis said the ACS data has a higher margin of error because it is+ sample data. It especially has a difficult time understanding communities with less than 65,000 residents, which raises concerns about fairness.

 

What makes a map fair?

 

Both lawmakers and advocates say they want fair districts. Roberto Valdez from Latino Policy Forum said a fair map for the Latino community means at least 20 majority Latino districts and the current maps are not fair. Senate President Don Harmon, however, told NPR Illinois the current maps are "remarkably fair." They were passed by the Democrat majority in 2011.

Advertisement

 

“That’s why community input should be solicited, listened to and responded to. There may be differences of opinion about that," Doubek said.

 

The Illinois Constitution says "districts shall be compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population." Underhill said this means a district must have a general area it represents, be able to be travel through without substantial interruption, and have an equal number of people. Congressional districts are required to have nearly the exact same population, while legislative districts have a 5% margin of error to work with. Illinois House districts should have about 108,000 people in each one.

 

Political observers also believe Illinois is set to lose a member of Congress in the remap due to substantial population loss over the past decade. It likely will be a Republican district that gets eliminated, with Reps. Adam Kinzinger from the 16th district and Rodney Davis from the 13th district as names that have been thrown around in political circles for having their homes drawn into another district.

The Illinois House and Senate will continue holding public hearings on how the new maps should be drawn over the next few weeks. The House and Senate each have their own sites where the public can submit their own maps for consideration. A public hearing also will be held at the state capitol on April 12 at 2 p.m.