Republicans Sue St. Clair County Government, Saying Democrats Are Gerrymandering Districts
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Two St. Clair County Republicans are suing the county government, Chairman Mark Kern and County Clerk Thomas Holbrook over a newly proposed redistricting map.
They argue that the plan is unconstitutional and will give Democrats an unfair advantage over Republicans in upcoming county elections.
In the suit filed Aug. 11 in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Republican County Board member Ed Cockrell and St. Clair County Republican Party Chairwomen Cheryl Mathews say Kern drew legislative districts without waiting for new data from the 2020 Census to be released. In doing so, they allege, Kern violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S Constitution by gerrymandering the map.
“Mark Kern proposed the redistricting plan, and the Board voted to pass it, despite lacking the official population counts from the census,” the complaint says. “The plan does not take into account the official census counts, nor any other population data.”
Every 10 years the county board votes on adjusting district lines to reflect population changes based on the newest census data.
Kern did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit and the redistricting process.
Holbrook said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit itself, but said he has no say in the redistricting process. He said the county clerk’s office role is to record and file the new map that is passed by the county board.
“Whatever they (the county) give me is what I record,” Holbrook said. “I don’t have any judgment in the process at all”
The proposed map was approved on June 2 at a special board meeting. Cockrell was the only board member to vote against the map.
“District have not been created to be compact, and they divide townships and precincts in such a way that is violative of the statute and benefit the Democrat County board candidates,” the complaint continues. “Some of the districts have unusual shapes designed to allow the incumbent Democrat to be residing in their district, whereby they are in their district by a short distance.”
Cockrell and Mathews say that the newly drawn map is unconstitutional and “unsupported by any other data whatsoever.” They seek to have the map redrawn based on the official 2020 census count released this month.
In their suit, Cockrell and Mathews also allege:
- Democratic members of the county board and possible future Democratic candidates conspired to create Democrat districts and eliminate and dilute Republican representation on the board.
- The proposed plan intentionally and unnecessarily places Republican incumbents into areas with a larger Democrat base, “diluting” Republican influence and the electoral process, some of which were in districts narrowly won by Democrats.
- Because census data was not used, creating equal districts is not possible.
- The new map violates the “one person, one vote” principles derived from the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th amendment of the Constitution due to districts having varying numbers of voters, sometimes by a difference of more than a thousand.
“The proposed map by Kern gives over-representation to the western portions of the county, traditionally democratic. Additionally, the odd shapes of the currently proposed districts accommodate current democratic incumbents,” Matthews said in an email to the BND.
There are other issues with the map beyond the gerrymandering, Matthews said.
She said the map ignores a loss of population and population shifts that are shown in the recently released census data. One example, she said, is a population shift in East St. Louis not accurately represented in the June map.
“According to US Census data, East St Louis’ population has decreased from 27,432 in 2011 to 18,516 today. Despite a loss of 8,916 residents, East St. Louis still has three county board members,” Mathews said.
Cockrell told the News-Democrat Kern’s map “speaks for itself,” and was “clearly” gerrymandered in favor of Democrats. He pointed to examples in the lawsuit that he said show the map “cherry picks” subdivisions that help Democrats in certain districts.
“None of that was done with census numbers and it looks like a lot of the county board members weren’t consulted about it,” Cockrell said.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter and editor with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.