CHICAGO – Democrats in Illinois are expected to approve new legislative limits on Tuesday despite objections from Republicans and some community groups that the process was needlessly rushed and maps drawn behind closed doors to keep Democrats in power.
Tuesday’s vote is a repeat of the cards the Democratic majority approved and Gov. JB Pritzker signed earlier this year. These cards sparked legal action from top Illinois Republicans and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latin American civil rights organization, who argued that they were flawed and unconstitutional because they were based on population estimates from the American Community Survey rather than the 2020 census.
With the release of census data this month, Democratic leaders said the maps would be adjusted and the Illinois Legislature would return to Springfield for another vote. This could ensure Democrats continue to control the card-making process, rather than risk a judge throwing the cards away or allowing a bipartisan commission to resume work – a process that could end with Republicans having the last word.
The new maps, which House and Senate Democrats first released online Monday afternoon, will be used in the next decade’s election.
Representative Elizabeth Hernandez, a Democrat from Cicero who heads the House redistribution committee, said on Monday that the new limits “better reflect the data we recently received from the US census and ensure that communities are represented by people of their choice”.
Republicans blasted Democrats, saying the hastily called and poorly attended public hearings held over the past week were a sham because the lines were already drawn in a secret Democrat-controlled process.
Witnesses who testified at those hearings urged Democrats to release proposed cards and give the public up to 30 days – or more – to weigh in before a vote is taken.
Ami Ghandi, senior attorney for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, told members of redistribution committees that it was “unreasonable” to expect voters to provide information without maps to react to. Reverend Robin Hood, representing black voters in Chicago, said people felt “disgusted” at being left out of the process.
Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, said the cards the legislature votes on Tuesday “will not be made from public input, but from pure politics.”
“At every opportunity in this redistribution process, it’s as if lawmakers are doing everything possible to ensure that the creation of these maps has as little public input as possible,” Young said.
Lawmakers have historically used census data for redistribution, or the process of redrawing political maps every 10 years to reflect population changes and ensure, among other things, that districts are roughly equal in population. But with the release of 2020 census data delayed this year due to the pandemic, Democrats have chosen to use the American Community Survey to meet a June 30 deadline set in the state’s constitution.
If the legislature did not meet this deadline, an eight-member committee would be created with an equal number of Democratic and GOP lawmakers. If that group was unable to approve a card, a ninth member would be chosen at random to break the tie.
Republicans are hoping a federal judge will throw the Democrats’ cards away and order the process to begin.
Illinois Democrats have yet to vote on the new congressional district boundaries. The state constitution does not set a deadline for the approval of these maps, so lawmakers have chosen to wait for census data before drawing these maps. Illinois loses a seat in Congress and Democrats are expected to eliminate a GOP-owned district.