SPRINGFIELD – Republicans in the General Assembly have introduced a new bill that would hand over the process of drawing new legislative and congressional district maps to an independent commission that would be required to use official Census Bureau, rather than survey estimates, to draw the maps.
The latest bill, introduced Tuesday, March 30 as an amendment to Senate Bill 1325, mirrors a proposed constitutional amendment that was introduced in 2019. That proposal, which had 37 cosponsors, died in the 101st General Assembly without receiving a hearing.
“Voters shouldn’t have to rely on politicians who draw maps solely to fulfill their self-serving interests,” Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, the bill’s chief sponsor, said during a virtual news conference. “Remember … just last year, 18 Democrats in the Illinois Senate signed on to a constitutional amendment supporting an independent mapmaking commission. We’ve taken the language of that constitutional amendment and we’re proposing to do just that by statute.”
Every 10 years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district maps to align with the most recent decennial census. That process is being complicated this year, as the census data needed to complete those tasks has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.
The Census Bureau has said that the data needed for congressional redistricting will be available by April 30. But the more detailed, block-level data that most states need for legislative redistricting won’t be available until the end of September.
But the Census Bureau has also said it will have the more detailed data available in another, less user-friendly format — what’s known as the Legacy Format Summary Redistricting File — by mid- to late-August.
Democrats, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, have suggested they can meet the constitutional deadlines by using population estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. But Republicans are objecting to that idea, saying that data is flawed because it is based on only a sample of all households.
“So that’s what it comes down to,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs. “Do we want to rely upon an unproven piece of research, or are we going to do what we’ve done traditionally in the past? And we can pivot, we can make adjustments. We do that often with deadlines.”
The bill calls for the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the most senior member of the court who is from a different political party to appoint a 16-member Independent Redistricting Commission. It would be composed of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents, and no one who has been elected to a state, federal or local government office within the preceding four years would be eligible to serve on the commission.
The bill also anticipates that the commission will not complete its work by the constitutional June 30 deadline and that an eight-member Legislative Redistricting Commission would also be appointed.
The independent commission would then wait to receive the Legacy Format Summary Redistricting File from the Census Bureau and, within 30 days after that, submit a plan for new state legislative maps to the Legislative Redistricting Commission while submitting its plan for congressional redistricting to the General Assembly.
“Every Illinoisan deserves to be represented in our democracy, and an independent map drawn by the people for the people, and not by politicians for politicians, is really the best way for people to have their voices heard,” said Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods. “For too long the people of Illinois have been deprived of the right of having an independent map where they get to pick their elected representatives.”
The idea of turning the redistricting process over to an independent commission, often referred to as the “Fair Maps” proposal, has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the past. A 2020 survey by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University found that 64 percent of those responding favored redistricting reform, including 40 percent who “strongly” favored it.
In 2014 and 2016, there were citizen-led petition drives to put such an amendment on the ballot, but both initiatives were ultimately struck down by Illinois courts on technical grounds.
This year, however, Democrats have indicated that they intend to use the traditional legislative process to redraw maps, and both the House and Senate Redistricting Committees have outlined their schedules for holding public hearings around the state.
The Senate committee, which is divided into 15 regional subcommittees, has already begun conducting virtual meetings focusing on different regions of the state. The House committee’s schedule includes a series of 23 in-person hearings it will conduct around the state beginning Thursday, April 1, in Chicago.