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Democrats’ Late Friday Maps Drop Brings Decennial Redistricting Fight To Fever Pitch

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

The Illinois General Assembly’s typical end-of-May rush is headed for an acrimonious conclusion after Democrats published their long-awaited proposed legislative maps Friday evening, kicking off what those in the party hope is the final leg of a contentious once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

Republicans — along with many self-styled government reform organizations and minority advocacy groups — are hoping last-minute maneuvering and in-fighting among the majority party could give them a small opening to delay the process long enough to take the responsibility entirely out of lawmakers’ hands and give the GOP a 50/50 shot at drawing the maps.

Either way, the maps will end up in court. But before then, lawmakers will engage in a raucous partisan fight over new legislative district boundaries that could bring some of their political careers to an end.

That’s true of both the Republicans who claim they’ve been completely shut out of the process, and Democrats whose districts’ demographics either no longer favor them or were never really designed to elect a Democrat in the first place.

“Redistricting is about making sure all voices are heard, and that’s exactly what this map accomplishes,” State Sen. Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) said in a prepared statement Friday evening. 

Read more: What Makes A Legislative Map 'Fair?' For Top Democrat, Equity, Not District Shape, Is Key

Aquino, who was tapped to chair the Senate’s redistricting committee earlier this year, thanked community groups who engaged in the remap process over dozens of hearings — many via Zoom — this spring.

“This is a fair map that reflects the great diversity of our state and ensures every person receives equal representation in the General Assembly.”

Read more: Illinois To Lose 1 Congressional Seat After Census Shows State Lost Population For First Time

Latino lawmakers are looking to increase their power in Springfield as they are underrepresented in the legislature, compared with African Americans, who are slightly overrepresented — a testament to the Legislative Black Caucus’ power grown through a long-cultivated partnership with now-ousted longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan, whose mapmaking skills has cemented Democrats’ power in the Illinois House for decades. 

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero), who chaired the House’s redistricting committee, said the House's proposed map “reflects input from grassroots individuals and community organizations” across Illinois.

“This proposed map amplifies the diverse voices of the people of Illinois, allows communities to be represented by people of their choice and ensures that every person in our state has a say in their government,” Hernandez said. 

But Republicans took aim at the maps and the process by which they were drawn. 

“Releasing new partisan maps late on a Friday night proves that the Mike Madigan playbook continues in the Illinois House,” State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said in a statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into Illinois’ usual map-making timeline as the U.S. Census bureau won’t be able to give states final detailed 2020 Census data it usually disperses in April until late August. Candidates begin circulating petitions to get on the 2022 ballot in September. But since Illinois’ constitution doesn’t require Census data is used to make new maps every ten years, Democrats are using a mix of data, including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

But GOP lawmakers and other community organizations say they’re worried about the ACS data’s accuracy, and lawsuits over the maps could hinge on whether using data that turns out to be inaccurate.

Democrats, however, say community input is just as valuable, and have even thrown doubt on the accuracy of the 2020 Census count itself, pointing to both the pandemic and intimidation tactics by former President Donald Trump in attempting to insert a citizenship question on the Census. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately blocked the question’s inclusion, some Democrats said the damage was already done in immigrant communities afraid to answer the Census.

The ACS, however, also asks respondents about citizenship.

The state’s constitution lays out a June 30 deadline for lawmakers and the governor to approve a map, or else the process gets kicked to an appointed commission equally split by partisans. That has happened four of the five times lawmakers have redistricted themselves under the state’s current constitution. 

The most recent time, in 2011, Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, and met the June 30 deadline without risking giving Republicans a shot to control the process. Democrats are on track to the same outcome next week.

Two highly unlikely scenarios could derail that eventuality: Either some Democrats could go rogue over dissatisfaction with the new district boundaries and successfully delay the process until after June 30, or Gov. JB Pritzker could veto the maps. While on the campaign trail, Pritzker vowed to veto maps drawn by lawmakers, political party operatives or their staffs. But since he's been governor, Pritzker has softened on that promise, saying he'd veto an "unfair" map that doesn't reflect the state's diversity.

Read more: GOP Accuses Pritzker Of Breaking Campaign Promise On 'Fair Maps'

If either of those things were to happen, an eight-member appointed commission would take over the process and would have until Aug. 10 to agree on maps. Such an areement has happened only once during the first redistricting year after the state adopted its constitution in 1970.

Otherwise, the names of two partisans are put into a hat — or crystal bowl in 1991 — and the winner of that drawing breaks the commission’s tie and final maps must be approved by Oct. 5. Democrats have succeeded in two of three high-stakes raffles held over maps in the last five decades. 

Lawmakers will hold four hearings on the maps next week — in the afternoon and evening both Tuesday and Wednesday — before a final vote.

Though resources on the proposed maps released by Senate Democrats Friday are more detailed, the .pdf files House Democrats disseminated make it nearly impossible to tell who might be drawn out of close districts. Legislation containing exact district boundaries won’t be released until next week.

State Reps. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) and Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) may have been drawn into the same proposed House district, but neither Republican knew for sure Friday evening while poring over the maps with NPR Illinois — House maps Butler quipped look like “clip art.”

Sangamon County appears to have been split into four House districts, which Butler said went “directly against” the wishes of groups who testified at redistricting hearings this spring. 

“They wanted to keep communities like Springfield together and it looks like [Democrats are] once again dividing up certain communities to take partisan advantage of it,” Butler said.

Butler and Bourne, who are close allies and are both known as collaborative and moderate leaders in their caucus who can quell their more conservative firebrand colleagues, said running against each other is the least of their worries right now. 

“No map should be drawn about incumbents,” Bourne said. “This should be about, ‘What are communities of interest, how do they best select their representative?”

A more detailed interactive map released by the House Sunday afternoon revealed Bourne and Butler live in separate proposed House districts, but State Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Springfield) was drawn into the same district as Bourne.

This story has been updated to reflect Sunday afternoon's more detailed proposed House map.

Hannah covers state government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at WILL-AM/FM, Law360, Capitol Fax and The Daily Line before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving to CNI in 2023.
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