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General Assembly Approves Election Changes For 2022; GOP Urges Pritzker To Veto Redistricted Maps

Derek Cantù/ NPR Illinois

The Illinois General Assembly this week approved a measure making multiple changes to election procedures, including pushing back the 2022 primary election from its usual mid-March date to the end of June.

COVID-19 delayed the release of official 2020 U.S. Census data to states, but Democrats who control the legislative process in Illinois trudged forward anyway on their decennial redrawing of legislative district boundary lines to avoid giving Republicans a 50/50 chance at controlling the maps if they weren’t approved by Gov. JB Pritzker by June 30,

Democrats also used non-Census data to draw a new map for the Illinois Supreme Court’s five districts for the first time in 60 years, as well as the Cook County Board of Review. But they are waiting to draw new congressional districts, and counties don’t have a hard and fast deadline to redistrict boundaries for seats on county boards.

Illinois will again lose a seat in Congress based on reapportionment data the U.S. Census Bureau announced in April. But when crafting new districts, Democrats may end up using official 2020 Census data -- due out in August -- instead of the American Community Survey data used to draw legislative districts. County boards will also have the option of using either.

Republican lawmakers claimed allowing these districts to use either decennial Census data or ACS data is both confusing and hypocritical.

“What do we say to the advocacy groups that testified for endless hours, asking for time to review the maps, data to look at the maps?” State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) asked on the House floor earlier this week. “They asked for waiting until the Census was delivered…The mix of messages here is unbelievable and it is all connected back to redistricting, and redistricting drives everything that we do here and accounts for so much of why our state is not working.”

The election proposal also builds upon a law enacted earlier this year to permanently extend alternative voting options that became prominent during the pandemic — namely curbside and mail-in voting.

Brian Pollock of the Kane County Clerk’s office said although the proposal calls for allowing Illinoisans to permanently receive mail-in ballots for all subsequent elections, the voter would have to apply for the option.

“This does not indicate that the clerk's office is sending unsolicited ballots to voters who do not request a ballot,” Pollock said. “It allows seniors and those who wish to vote by mail, for whatever reason, the convenience of completing the application only once, not one for each and every election.”

Some Republicans raised concerns instituting permanent mail-in ballots could mean sending ballots to voters who passed away.

“The problem is our current election law and our current clerks, it only says they may take people off the rolls, not that they must or they shall,” State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst) said. “We have no provision in Illinois law that actually does require our county clerks to actually take the dead people off the rolls.”

Mazzochi said she had filed legislation to address this issue, but her bill has been stalled in committee since March.

One pandemic policy that didn’t make it into the proposal, however, was a provision that reduced the ballot signature requirement for third-party candidates.

Last year, representatives from the Illinois Libertarian and Green Party sued the state stating Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order severely impacted their ability to get the necessary signatures to appear on the November ballot. A court ruling allowed the party to not only extend the window to gather signatures, but also allowed for third-party candidates to collect electronic signatures and dramatically reduced the number of signatures needed by thousands.

Those procedures will not be used in the 2022 election and third-party candidates will again have a reduced window to collect ballot signatures. Unlike Republican and Democratic candidates who can start canvassing for ballot signatures on January 13 (March 7-14 for congressional and judicial candidates) third-party candidates will have to wait until April 13 before they can begin their efforts.

Another provision in the proposal that received criticism from Republican lawmakers was a clause that allows candidates to use campaign funds to go toward car payments.

“We want to make sure to clarify that when people are using their political funds to pay for gas, that is not illegal because they're doing the work of the people either; especially on the governmental side, but the political side as well,” the proposal’s chief sponsor State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago) said.

But State Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) equated the provision to providing legal protection for Illinois’ Auditor General Frank Mautino. Two weeks ago, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Mautino violated campaign finance law by spending, over the course of 16 years, nearly $250,000 of campaign funds on fuel and repair payments for vehicles not owned by his campaign, including his own and campaign workers’ cars.

Read more: State’s Top Fiscal Watchdog Misspent Nearly $250K In Campaign Funds, High Court Finds

“This is so Illinois,” Batinick said. “We've had an auditor general that has been found in violation of campaign finance laws. So we're literally changing the law so he retroactively was no longer in violation of those laws. The Supreme Court found him in violation, and then in the other half of the case the only reason he wasn't found in violation is because he refused to provide his own financial records.”

Other changes to election law in the proposal approved by Democrats include allowing campaign funds be used for caregiving costs, like daycare and elder care.

The measure also would create an all-access voting center for each election authority for the 2022 election, the official titles for elected positions would be listed as gender-neutral, candidates who transitioned genders would no longer be required to list their “dead name.”

Democrats claim their proposal would make the nomination process for filling vacant seats in the General Assembly more transparent. Sheriff offices in every county would be required to set up temporary polling stations for Illinoisans who have been arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, and voter registration would be promoted at high schools.

State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) characterized the high school registration component as an extension of required civics classes.

“The Election Day holiday, practically it makes those schools and universities locations where voting can happen, and that's a good thing,” Stuart said. “But the other thing is it speaks to the importance of voting, which is the most basic and fundamental tenet of our democracy. It's telling people that voting matters, voting is important, and voting is how your voice is heard.”

The election proposal now heads over to the governor’s desk for a likely signature.

GOP Response To Legislative Maps

Credit Derek Cantù/ NPR Illinois

Republican lawmakers are continuing to make noise demanding Pritzker veto the maps Democrats passed over the weekend. While a candidate in 2018, the governor promised to veto a map that was drawn in a partisan nature by lawmakers.

Republicans pointed to the disproportionate number of their members who had their districts merged with another GOP lawmaker, a phenomenon that was absent for most Democratic incumbents.

A number of narrowly shaped Downstate districts consolidated metro regions with similar metro regions. For example, the proposed 36th Senate district would combine the Quad Cities with Galesburg, the 46th district would combine Peoria with Bloomington, and the 48th district would have a geographically tighter connection between Springfield and Decatur.

By emphasizing city-to-city connections and jettisoning previous rural representation, Democratic candidates would arguably have a more favorable chance to win more Downstate districts.

At a Thursday press conference, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) said newly drawn divisions between rural and metro areas, including where he lives in Christian County, would only serve a political purpose and thereby go against the governor’s stated wishes.

“We see the end result of one party rule here in our statehouse,” Davis said. “Look no further than my home county to see what the Democrats in the General Assembly have done to try and consolidate their own power and split Republican power downstate.”

Other lawmakers said these new political divisions also go against what stakeholders requested during redistricting public hearings.

“[Democrats] split up over 50 counties in Illinois,” State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) said. “If they want to keep communities of interest together, which is what they said they wanted to do, they wouldn't slice up these small rural counties into four or five pieces.”

State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) expects that because the legislative maps were redrawn using non-decennial data, there will be legal challenges by stakeholder groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We have consistently said that the maps need to follow all the guidelines, the Voting Rights Act, any precedent set in law, whether that's the congressional maps or the legislative maps,” Butler said. “Maps are litigated, and I'm sure these are going to be litigated, especially with the fact that we're using data that is incomplete, that does not adequately represent the people of Illinois.”

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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