Illinois loses 1 seat in Congress, but Republicans may lose 2

Illinois loses 1 seat in Congress, but Republicans may lose 2

A proposed map for new U.S. House districts in Illinois has been making the rounds in Springfield. Republicans stand to lose a lot.

After touting a transparent, non-partisan redistricting process, Democratic state lawmakers have quietly circulated a map that could potentially eliminate two Republican U.S. House seats.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the redistricting map being circulated to Democratic Party leaders aims to further widen the partisan split in the Illinois Congressional Delegation. It would force Republicans to yield the U.S. representative seat Illinois is losing as a result of population loss, plus it could lose them a second seat downstate by drawing a district that lumps together Democratic voters more likely to send another Illinois Democrat to the U.S. House.

This would leave the state with 14 Democrats and just three Republicans representing them in the U.S. House. There are currently 13 Democrats and five Republicans.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised from the campaign trail in 2018 through this year to veto any gerrymandered map. He recently backed off that promise, saying he trusted Democrats to be fair.

Illinois lawmakers have long used redistricting to force incumbents from the other party into the same district or to keep their party members safe from challengers. Both parties have abused the power when given the chance.

This redistricting cycle, Democrats are taking aim at downstate U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ district as well as U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s, according to Crain’s.

Under the proposed map, heavily GOP portions of Davis’ 13th Congressional District would be merged into fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller’s district, diluting Davis’ voting block for reelection.

Kinzinger’s 16th Congressional District would be dissolved and merged into surrounding districts. Kinzinger would lose his congressional seat.

Both Davis and Kinzinger have indicated they might run for governor against Pritzker if their districts are dismembered. Ironically, Pritzker campaigned for governor in 2018 on the promise he would veto any partisan political maps but walked back the promise in April.

Designers of the map also redrew districts to protect vulnerable Democratic seats in the next election, such as the northwest Illinois seat held by retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos. The proposed map would make the district more Democratic by including Rockford and increase the likelihood a Democrat wins the seat.

Democrats seem inclined to pass maps for both Congress and the state legislature based on population estimates from the American Community Survey and not on the actual census counts. The counts have been delayed by the pandemic, and the data potentially will not be released until late September. Using estimates instead of counts leaves their maps open to legal challenges.

They are also under deadline pressure. After a June 30 deadline, Democrats would yield majority control over drawing the new maps to a bipartisan committee of four members from each party. The committee would have until Aug. 10 to approve maps – still too early for the real census data.

If this, too, fails, a ninth person would be randomly selected to help draw the maps by Oct. 5, giving superminority Republicans a 50-50 shot at control over the legislative maps.

Voters pay the price of all this political gamesmanship because it leads to fewer contested races and gives them little reason to go to the polls on Election Day. In the 2018 election, nearly half of the Illinois House of Representatives seats were uncontested. In the Illinois Senate, 20 of 39 senators up for election faced no opponent.

Illinois’ history and the experiences of other states all argue for putting mapping power in the hands of a nonpartisan redistricting commission made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents to keep politicians from carving out uncompetitive districts.

Illinois could also automate the process, allowing maps to be drawn randomly by algorithm, and then to be selected by an independent commission.

Public support for redistricting reform is widespread. A 2016 movement to put a fair maps question on the ballot received over 550,000 signatures from Illinois voters and had Pritzker’s backing before it was derailed by the Illinois Supreme Court. According to polling by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 67% of Illinoisans favored the idea compared to only 22% who were against it.

Some pundits have said the map Crain’s referenced is not real and was offered as an example of what could happen during the remapping process. But the secrecy of the process and history offer little evidence it isn’t genuine or it’s not exactly what lawmakers would do.

Anyone wanting to debunk the “Illinois loses one while Republicans lose two” theory should come out of the smoke-filled backrooms and show Illinoisans the maps.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!