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Redistricting hearings open amid partisan divides

Redistricting hearings open amid partisan divides

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers opened their first public hearing Tuesday on a proposed set of new House and Senate district maps with Democrats and Republicans still at sharp odds over how the maps were drawn and whether or not they are fair.

House and Senate Democrats unveiled the proposed maps late Friday. They were reportedly drawn using population estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey because official numbers from the 2020 census will not be available until August or September.

Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington, D.C., who was hired as a consultant by the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, testified that in his opinion, ACS data is acceptable to use for redistricting because in the five years leading up to the 2010 census, those estimates for Illinois were off by only about 0.3 percent.

“Nationally, there is no requirement under law or the constitution in Illinois that only decennial U.S. census data can be used for redistricting,” he said. “In fact, the majority of states, I repeat that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, do not explicitly require that you must use only decennial census data for internal redistricting purposes, particularly of course when such data is not available or delayed.”

He also praised Illinois for legislative maps produced in the past that enabled Black and Hispanic communities to gain representation in the General Assembly that roughly mirrors their numbers in the state population as a whole.

But upon questioning from Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, among others, Lichtman said he could not tell whether the proposed maps released over the weekend would accomplish the same thing because he had not seen the demographic data that was used to draw them.

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said the maps before the committee were only a draft, but McConchie said the committee still needed to see the demographic numbers.

“How can we appropriately measure the draft without the numbers,” he asked.

Hernandez said those numbers would be forthcoming, but McConchie insisted lawmakers needed them before they could consider the proposed maps.

“We’re looking at shapes on a map,” he said. “That doesn’t give us the level of detail necessary … There’s no data.”

Other Republicans complained that the proposed maps still have not been put into bill form, which would provide legal descriptions of the boundaries of each district.

Meanwhile, Madeleine Doubek, executive director of the reform advocacy group Change Illinois, argued against using ACS estimates for redistricting.

“The maps unveiled Friday night are built on old flawed data that never was meant to be used for redistricting,” she said. “We and many other organizations and community members have said this repeatedly. The American Community Survey five-year estimates undercount Illinoisans by tens of thousands.”

Hearings are scheduled to continue Wednesday and Thursday. Legislative Democrats are pressing to pass a new set of legislative maps before the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment on Monday, May 31.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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