Illinois Democrats approve new legislative maps over criticism

Illinois Democrats were ready to establish new legislative boundaries, despite objections from Republicans. Some community groups also felt that the process was too rushed. Maps were drawn behind closed doors in order to preserve Democrats' power in the state Legislature.

Illinois Democrats approve new legislative maps over criticism

Tuesday's vote by lawmakers approved a re-drawing of the legislative maps approved by majority Democrats and approved by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year. These maps led to lawsuits by top Illinois Republicans and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (a Latino civil rights organization), who claimed that the maps were invalid and unconstitutional since they were based upon population estimates from American Community Survey, rather than 2020.

New census data was released in August and Democratic leaders called Springfield lawmakers to pass new maps. This could allow Democrats to continue to control the process of creating maps, as opposed to risking having a judge reject them or allowing a bipartisan commission take over -- which could lead to Republicans being the last to have the final say.

The House and Senate Democrats uploaded the new maps online Monday afternoon for the first time. They will then be used for state legislative elections in the next ten years. With no GOP "yes" votes, the measure was passed late Tuesday by both the Senate and state House. It is now headed to Pritzker's desk where it will be signed into law.

Illinois Democrats have not yet voted on new congressional district boundaries, but with the state losing a congressional seat due to population loss, they are expected to eliminate a GOP-held district and try to make other districts more friendly to Democrats. Illinois is one of few states in which Democrats have complete control over redistricting. This will be a crucial part of Democrats' efforts to maintain the U.S. House Majority next year. The party's approach towards state legislative map-making, which is moving ahead despite opposition from usual allies, suggests that they will be equally aggressive when it comes to congressional boundaries.

Representative Elizabeth Hernandez (a Cicero Democrat) is the leader of the House Redistricting Committee. She said that the new legislative boundaries better reflect the U.S. Census data and will ensure that communities are represented by people who choose them.

Republicans blasted Democrats by claiming that the hastily called and sparsely attended public hearings over the past week were a sham, because boundaries were already being drawn secretly, Democrat-controlled.

Witnesses at the hearings called on Democrats to post maps and allow the public to weigh in for as long as possible before voting.

Ami Ghandi was senior counsel to the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and told members of the redistricting commissions that it was unreasonable to expect voters without maps to respond to their input. Rev. Robin Hood, representing Black voters of Chicago, stated that people feel "disgust" at being excluded from the process.

Jay Young, Common Cause Illinois' executive director, stated that the maps that the Legislature will vote on Tuesday are not based on public input but only of pure politics.

Young stated that "at every opportunity in this redistricting procedure, it's as though lawmakers went out of the way to ensure that these maps were created with as little public input"

Redistricting is the process of drawing new political maps every ten years to reflect population changes and ensure that all districts have roughly equal population. Legislators traditionally used census data. The pandemic delayed the release of 2020 census data this year, so Democrats decided to use the American Community Survey in order to meet the June 30 deadline.

An eight-member commission with equal numbers of Democrat or Republican lawmakers would be formed if the Legislature fails to meet this deadline. A ninth member will be chosen at random to break the tie if that group is unable to approve a plan.

Republicans still hope that a federal judge will toss out the maps of Democrats and start this process.

The Illinois Constitution does not set a deadline for congressional districts maps to be approved. Therefore, legislators chose to wait until they had the census data to draw those maps.