Illinois Democrats to redraw political maps using census

·3 min read

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Democrats said Friday the Legislature will return to Springfield to redraw political districts that will be used for legislative elections over the next decade, this time using data from the 2020 census.

The announcement came as Republicans said census data released last week show the maps that majority Democrats approved and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed earlier this year amounted to an unconstitutional power grab. Democrats used population estimates, not the actual census, to draw the boundaries — a move that prompted lawsuits from GOP leaders and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading Latino civil rights organization.

“The release of the Census data is game-set-match against the Illinois Democrats,” House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said. “Now knowing that their original map is unconstitutional, the Democrats are now scrambling to draw a new backroom map on short notice.”

The Legislature is scheduled for a one-day session on Aug. 31 to consider the new maps, Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said.

“Our goal has always been to implement a map that is fair and represents the diversity of the population of Illinois,” Harmon said. “With census data now available, we will take any necessary legislative action with that same goal in mind.”

But Republicans and others who want independently drawn maps — not districts created by the party in power — still have concerns about how the next round of maps will be created.

Political maps must be redrawn after each decennial census to reflect changes in population and ensure the protection of voters’ rights. The districts must be compact, contiguous and of equal population, among other things. Historically lawmakers have used census data to draw those boundaries, but the release of 2020 data was delayed this year due partly to the pandemic.

In Illinois, if the governor doesn’t approve new maps by June 30 the job shifts to a bipartisan commission. So Democrats, citing June 30 as their deadline, used the American Community Survey to draw the boundaries. The ACS uses five-year estimates rather than an actual count.

Republicans say the census data show the maps Democrats approved with no GOP votes are unconstitutional. Among the violations, they say, are districts with populations that deviate by three times the allowed maximum. CHANGE Illinois, which supports independent map making, said its analysis also found large differences in population between districts. That resulted in a majority Black district on Chicago's South Side where voting power was diluted and a district in the Chicago suburb of Aurora that gave voters “substantially more voting power than any other," the organization said.

Republicans want a federal court in Chicago to declare the maps approved this spring void, shifting the responsibility for drawing new maps to the bipartisan commission. In a court filing late Friday, MALDEF — which sued top Illinois Democrats and state election officials on behalf of five Latino registered voters — also asked that the maps be thrown out and that the court set a schedule for the creation of a court-approved plan.

CHANGE Illinois is asking lawmakers in each chamber of the Legislature to hold at least four public hearings, and to give the public a two-week period to review changes to maps and give feedback.

Sara Burnett, The Associated Press

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