Prenzler Says “No Gerrymandering” On New Madison County Map With Fewer County Board Seats
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
A new redistricting map will be presented to the Madison County Board for approval next week that could reduce the number of its members.
County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler called for a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday to consider the new map that would shrink the board districts from 29 to 25 seats, meaning some board members would lose their seats and some residents would see their representation merged into other districts.
“I think going to 29 to 25 is modest and county board members have told me that that’s achievable,” Prenzler said of the proposed new number of districts. “I’ve been told that’s something they can agree to.”
Every 10 years the county board votes on adjusting district lines to reflect population changes based on the newest census data. Prenzler said the new map was been delayed, however, due to the timing of the release of the 2020 Census results.
The proposed map is based on the assumption that the county will shrink in population. The estimated population in 2019 was nearly 263,000, down from about 269,000 in 2010.
Prenzler said the map was fairly made and includes no gerrymandering, but it isn’t available for public viewing as of yet and he didn’t know which county board seats would be dissolved, if the map is approved.
In April, the county entered into a $4,500 contract with the University of Illinois Geographic Information Systems Lab at Springfield to draw the new redistricting map. Prenzler said the agreement was aimed at ensuring the map is done fairly and without bias.
“I promised when I ran (for office) a fair map and, in my mind, the method to get to a fair map is to let it be drawn by an independent,” he said of the contract,” he said. “My instructions were to draw the map without bias.”
According to the contract, the lab was asked to base its decisions on the latest Geography Information System data and population-related data. The contract also specifically asked that the map divide the country into 25 districts, “conforming with state statute.”
Other attempts to shrink board
It isn’t the first time Prenzler, along with other county Republicans , have pushed to reduce the size the county board. In May 2021, Prenzler proposed an advisory referendum that would have asked voters if the county board should be smaller on the April 2021 ballot. The board voted against the idea.
The referendum would have asked voters “Shall the number of county board members be reduced from the current 29 members following the 2020 Decennial Census?”
The Madison County Board has the maximum number of board members allowed by law who represent roughly 263,000 people.
At the time, Prenzler said having fewer board members would save taxpayers some money. Board members in Madison County are each paid $14,500, a figure that has been flat for nearly a decade, Prenzler noted.
Madison County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Harris said the resolution was another move by Prenzler to reduce services offered by the county. He said if the board were to shrink, county residents would have less representation.
“I find it very difficult to believe that this is being done in an attempt to make things better for taxpayers,” Harris said. “This is not for taxpayers. This is to strangle government services for the taxpayers.”
The county board is set to discuss and possibly vote on the map on Tuesday at 5 p.m. The meeting marks the first time the Madison County Board will meet in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
A final map must be adopted by July 1.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.