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Democrats' Slightly Tweaked Remap Plans Serve To Bolster Claims Party Heeded Community Input

Democrats in Illinois’ House and Senate Thursday evening released a second set of proposed legislative district boundary maps with four days left in the General Assembly’s regularly scheduled spring session.

The new maps are tweaked ever so slightly from versions made public over the weekend, giving Democrats cover from complaints the majority party has not listened to community advocacy organizations in their many hours of redistricting hearings this week. 

“After 50 public hearings across the state and listening to hours of testimony, the House and Senate Democrats have put together a product our state can be proud of,” House Redistricting Committee Chair State Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) said in a statement Thursday. “What should stand out about this proposed map is how similar districts look compared to our current map. This is the same map a renowned expert says is a model for the nation for minority representation.”

Democrats say their revised maps include changes requested by members of Chicago’s Orthodox Jewish community, advocates for Chicago’s majority Black North Lawndale neighborhood and even accommodations for Republicans. 

An initial version of the legislative maps drew quite a few sets of GOP House members into the same district, forcing incumbent Republicans to oppose their colleagues in a primary election — including one downstate district that would have pitted four GOP members to run against each other.

Republicans, however, said the small changes were disingenuous. 

“Round two of the House Democratic legislative maps are as dishonest as the ones released last Friday,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement Thursday night. “The House Democrats turned their back on Illinoisans and every advocacy group who has an interest in honest government. Despite the flowery rhetoric about these changes, the Illinois House Democrats allowed their members to draw their own legislative districts with phony data.”

The once-in-a-decade event is always acrimonious, but partisan bickering and even tiffs between members of the redistricting committees and witnesses weighing in on the mapmaking process have dominated conversations surrounding the new district boundaries. 

The chief complaint from advocacy organizations is Democrats’ insistence on using non-Census data to draw the maps, as the COVID pandemic delayed the 2020 Census data until August — more than two months after a constitutional trigger that takes the redistricting process out of lawmakers’ hands and punts it to an eight-member bipartisan appointed commission, which has ended in deadlock three of four times it’s ever been used.

As a deadlocked commission is a forgone conclusion, Democrats don’t want to risk giving Republicans a 50/50 chance to control the mapmaking process with the random selection of an additional partisan member of the panel, who would cast the deciding vote in one of the party’s favors.

Republicans and advocacy organizations have repeatedly asked to see the data Democrats have been using to draw their maps, which relies primarily on an aggregation of the biennial American Community Survey responses going back to 2015. While Democrats have repeatedly said ACS data is only marginally — 0.3% — off from Census data, advocacy organizations disagree, saying they’re worried the new maps will violate the federal Voting Rights Act and a similar state law.

Democrats also used “robust public input” from dozens of sparsely attended virtual and in-person hearings on redistricting since March, pointing to proposed changes to the current maps in seven areas that came from community opinion.

In Springfield, for example, proposed districts boundary lines were changed to allow the “vast majority of the city to be kept in two House districts and one Senate district,” according to a planning document.

Public voter data was also used, the caucuses confirmed for the first time Thursday evening. Using voter data is not unusual for either Democrats or Republicans and historically has always been used in Illinois’ redistricting process, but certain states ban its use when re-drawing political boundaries.

House Democrats on Thursday night also released estimated population change data for each of the 118 proposed districts in that chamber, as well as racial breakdowns for the draft maps.

According to the caucus, 15 proposed House districts have populations at or above 50% Black, and 14 districts at or above 50% Latino. Another 12 proposed districts have a Black population between 20 and 49%, while an additional 18 districts have a Latino population in that same range.

“All totals are more than what would be if today’s populations were still within 2011 district lines, based on total population or citizen voting age population,” a planning document said.

The proposed new 93rd House district, an area largely to the north and west of Peoria currently represented by a few Republicans is estimated to have lost the most population since 2010. State Rep. Mark Luft (R-Pekin) would represent that district if re-elected in 2022. Rockford State Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford)'s proposed new legislative district is estimated to have lost the second-most population. 

The proposed southwest suburban district for State Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) has seen the most population growth in the last decade, followed by the area on Chicago’s north side represented by State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago).

While Batinick’s district may allow him to hold onto his seat in 2022, the Republican told NPR Illinois Thursday night that he’d rather see a “fair map” for the whole state if it meant an unfavorable district for him.

“I’d rather be fairly drawn into a bad district than gerrymandered into a good one,” Batinick said. 

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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