Political maps get 23 public hearings in April across Illinois

Political maps get 23 public hearings in April across Illinois

Illinois House members scheduled public hearings before they try to redraw the maps showing who serves what area in Congress and the Statehouse. How they can legally create a map in June when Census data will not be out until September remains a question.

The Illinois House scheduled 23 public hearings in April to gather comments from Illinois residents on legislative redistricting. What remains to be seen is how state lawmakers will redraw the political maps in about three months when population data will not be available for about six months.

Illinois won’t have redistricting data from the U.S. Census Bureau until late September because of COVID-19. That puts pressure on Democratic state lawmakers to advance the redistricting process before the June 30 deadline, or else they risk losing their majority advantage to determine both state legislative and U.S. congressional maps in Illinois.

Control matters because maps give the majority party an edge in keeping incumbents safe or squeezing out opponents. Illinois is expected to lose a congressional seat as a result of Illinois’ population loss, and there is already speculation about U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, being squeezed out to make his two Democratic neighbors’ districts safer.

While some critics say the hearings are meaningless, and the majority party will draw maps in their own favor, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said that is wrong and the hearings are valuable. As a state senator he pushed for the state law requiring hearings and then chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee hearings in 2011.

“As much as people want to criticize the overall process, we heard back from people who said they came to the hearings, expressed their concerns and the resulting map reflected things that they had shared,” Raoul told Politico.

But the 2011 map drawn by Democrats forced incumbent Republicans into the same district to either face primaries against each other or abandon re-election. Republicans did the same thing in 1991 when they drew the maps.

While lawmakers on the wrong side of gerrymandering might be map casualties, it is Illinois’ voters who ultimately lose.

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.

There is little incentive to vote when there is no choice on the ballot.

After the 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 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.

The Illinois House Redistricting Committee released dates and locations for 23 hearings, although state law passed under former Gov. Pat Quinn only requires four hearings for the Illinois House and another minimum four hearings for the Illinois Senate before redrawing district lines. The Senate has yet to release its hearing dates. Whether the House hearings will be in person or virtual was not disclosed.

After the hearings lawmakers can then redraw the state’s 59 Senate and 118 House districts to reflect changes from census data. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has long vowed to veto any gerrymandered political maps.

The map is legally required to be compact, contiguous, substantially equal in population and allow racial or language minority communities to influence the election of their preferred candidate. If estimates rather than the official census data is used, the map could be vulnerable to legal challenges.

If the courts determine the maps do not pass constitutional muster, they could send them back to the legislature with specific orders. That happened in 1982, when the Illinois maps were deemed to discriminate against racial minorities.

Illinois’ history, scholarship and 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. California and Arizona have seen more competitive elections and fewer safe seats after implementing such commissions. In the long term, Illinois should investigate the possibility of automating 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 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.

Despite Pritzker’s vows against allowing gerrymandering and Raoul’s assurances about the hearing process, the best way to separate political maps from politics is to take politicians out of the equation.

Public hearing dates:

April 1: Chicago in the Bilandic Building in the Loop.

April 2: Villa Park, Peoria and Cook County west

April 3: Rock Island, Berwyn/Cicero and Chicago south

April 5: Elgin, Joliet and Rockford

April 7: Decatur, Lake County and Cook County northwest

April 8: Champaign, Cook County south and Chicago west

April 9: McHenry, Aurora and Illinois River Valley (LaSalle County)

April 11: Cook County north and Metro East

April 12: Springfield at the state Capitol

April 17: Carbondale

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