Illinois Residents Worry About Redistricting Transparency As Democrats and Republicans Spar
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
EAST ST. LOUIS —Central and southern Illinoisans told lawmakers Monday they’re concerned about transparency and fairness as Democrats aim to redraw legislative and congressional maps in the state.
Democrats invited the public to share their thoughts on redistricting at two dozen hearings statewide, including one Monday evening in East St. Louis.
Stanley Franklin, president of the NAACP’s East St. Louis chapter, said he is concerned about racial gerrymandering suppressing Black voters. He asked for a comment period before lawmakers vote on a map so the public could have a chance to weigh in.
Democrats, who control redistricting, must approve a map by June 30 per the state constitution. But 2020 was not a traditional year, and the COVID-19 pandemic will delay United States Census Bureau data by months. Complete data won’t be available until August at the earliest.
It means that the maps could be drawn without the benefit of a full census.
Republicans say Democrats will take the opportunity to redraw maps to their political advantage behind the veil of public hearings, said state Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville). It could mean rushing through map drawing to the detriment of transparency and even the possibility of having a comment period.
“We have a terrible habit in Springfield of introducing very, very important things and voting on (them) in less than 24 hours and sometimes overnight,” Plummer said.
Using incomplete Census data could further undercount Black and Brown communities, Plummer added. If they move forward with a the June deadline, Democrats might use data from the American Community Survey — a Census Bureau service that relies on a sample of Americans to make population estimates. The latest ACS data is from 2019.
But the hearings ensured often undercounted communities and other Illinois residents have a say, said state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea). The complete Census data undercounts Black and Brown communities anyway, especially because former President Donald Trump attempted to put a premature end to counting, said state Sen. Chris Belt (D-Centreville).
“The only way to ensure a fair map is to allow for greater public participation, not less. That’s why we are here today. We want to hear from our communities because we know that no matter what happens, data will only tell part of the story,” Belt said.
Few people knew about the hearings, however, said Samer Aldroubi of Peoria, who attended the East St. Louis hearing remotely.
“I stay fairly well plugged in and only learned of these (hearings) last week,” Aldroubi said.
Aldroubi said he was also in favor of a waiting period to allow the public to review maps before the legislature votes, but he said he wants to get redistricting “out of partisan hands” altogether and under the control of an independent, administrative body.
Plummer said Republicans have introduced such a plan. The legislation (SB1325) would empower the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a 16-member commission composed of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents.
The court-appointed commission would wait for the detailed Census data to be available later this year and then submit a plan within 30 days to the eight-member Legislative Redistricting Commission — a group made up of no more than four people each from a single political party, according to the Illinois Constitution. The House speaker and minority leader each appoint one representative and one person who is not a member of the General Assembly. The Senate president and minority leader does the same.
Under current redistricting rules, something similar happens if lawmakers fail to approve a map by the June 30 deadline. The task of redrawing the maps would go to the Legislative Redistricting Commission, which would have until Aug. 10 to produce a map that at least five members can agree on. If they fail to do so, the deadline would be extended to Oct. 5 and a person chosen at random from a preapproved list would serve on the commission, Capitol News Illinois reported.
While Republicans touted their plan, state Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon) called the legislation a “smokescreen” because “a bill cannot trump the constitution.”
“People think that this Republican bill will somehow create an independent group to draw a map is truly a false choice,” Crowe said. “Our constitution is very clear. We have a June 30 deadline to draw a map. If we fail to meet that deadline, we, Democrats and Republicans, have failed.”
Kelsey Landis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.