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Madison County voters will take up symbolic secession vote in November

The Madison County Administration Building on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Edwardsville.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Madison County Administration Building on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Edwardsville.

The Madison County Board voted 15-7 on Wednesday to send a symbolic question to voters in November about forming a new state separate from the Chicago area.

The secession vote, which carries no true power, could make Madison County in the Metro East the 27th in downstate Illinois to take the action.

“This is the single most democratic move that any group of concerned citizens can make,” said advocate Dave Stopher of Troy. “It’s to ask the people their opinion. That’s all we’re asking.”

The nonbinding advisory referendum will ask voters if Madison County should separate from Cook County, home to Chicago. It asks if the county board should communicate with other downstate county boards regarding forming a new state.

Wednesday’s approval from the Republican-dominated county board provides a win for the Illinois Separation Referendum — the group behind secession. It largely objects to Illinois’ progressive statewide politics driven by Chicago and some of its suburbs.

“We are unheard, ignored, energetic and took initiative first,” said Loret Newlin, who runs the statewide group from rural Jasper County in the southeast part of the state.

The group made Madison County its key target for the 2024 election after two small townships in the eastern part of the county approved similar questions in the 2022 election.

Both the Illinois General Assembly and Congress would need to approve secession and forming a new state — which political observers and legal experts say is nearly impossible.

County board member Alison Lamothe, D-Edwardsville, said there is simply no way that Democrats in Springfield or in Congress would support forming a new state.

“Ask Washington, D.C., how statehood has gone with them,” she said.

The board’s approval on Wednesday negates the group’s need to gather signatures in order to put the question in front of voters.

If Madison County approves the symbolic referendum, it would be by far the biggest to do so. The other 26 counties total about 476,000 people. Madison County has a population of about 264,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Critics of the referendum, both board members and the public, expressed concern that all the details about forming a new state had not even been considered. Some described the referendum as embarrassing.

“This is the worst resolution that’s been brought to the full board in my 26 years on the county board,” said Michael “Doc” Holliday Sr., D-Alton. “I’m opposed to this morbid resolution.”

Supporters of the secession movement acknowledge the unlikely nature of their request. Instead, Stopher and Newlin describe the referendum as taking a formal poll or survey of downstate’s disapproval of Illinois’ politics.

Board members who voted in favor said this is a popular issue with their constituents.

“If it’s voted down, we don’t bring it up again,” said Paul Nicolussi, R-Collinsville. “If it’s voted yes, then we have to let the voices of the citizens be heard.”

Other supporters shared similar sentiments with the Illinois Separation Referendum, loathing the Democratic stronghold of Chicago and some of its suburbs. That includes Bob Meyer, R-Granite City.

“I don’t have a problem with Chicago, but I have a problem with Chicago running Springfield,” he said.

When moving through the board’s committee earlier this month, some county officials discussed amending the referendum to request joining Missouri — instead of forming a new state. However, they decided not to add Missouri to the resolution.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul rejected a similar question from neighboring Jersey County last fall. The county does not have “the authority to secede from the State of Illinois and join another state,” Raoul’s legal opinion said.
Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio.

Madison County voters will take up symbolic secession vote in November

Will Bauer
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