SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - State lawmakers are currently working on redrawing the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. It's done every 10 years following the census. However, House and Senate Republicans say the current process isn't fair. They argue Illinois should have an independent commission in charge of redistricting.
Republican leaders say they want Democrats to keep their promise from the past and support an independent mapmaking process. The GOP proposal filed Tuesday would allow the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint 16 residents to a redistricting commission. The group would have an even split for political affiliation and reflect the state's racial, ethnic, and gender demographics. This bill blocks lawmakers, lobbyists, and state employees from serving on the commission.
Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) says this is the only fair option.
"We're talking about giving the people what they want," McConchie said. "More than 75% of people want independent maps and using real data. We're not using fake survey data in order to reach a partisan end."
McConchie is referring to data Democratic lawmakers are using from the American Community Survey along with information from private groups they work with. Republicans crafted their proposal with similar language from proposed constitutional amendments in 2016 and 2019 that were sponsored by Democrats. In fact, Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) co-sponsored the measure that passed with support from 105 representatives in 2016.
Independent process or rigging the process?
GOP leaders also emphasized that Gov. JB Pritzker has previously said he supports an independent redistricting process. The Chicago Democrat has said he'll veto any "unfair map" approved by lawmakers.
Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) says there's no reason Illinois shouldn't move to an independent commission. He explained there is already documented support from a majority of lawmakers in both chambers.
"Democrats want this. Republicans want this," Butler stressed. "The only people who are holding this up are a handful of people who want to draw the maps in the backrooms so that people don't see it."
Still, Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero), Chair of the House Redistricting Committee, says Republicans want to "rig the process to elect more right-wing" officials.
"I think a fair process starts with public input – not crass political calculations – which is why the House Redistricting Committee has scheduled 23 public hearings across our state to hear from people about what their community looks like to them," stated Hernandez. "We look forward to a robust and thorough discussion."
Yet, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) alluded to the decades of control former House Speaker Mike Madigan had over redistricting. While the disgraced Chicago Democrat is no longer in the General Assembly, Republicans feel his colleagues are using the same tactics.
"If there ever was a time where corruption was playing out in Illinois, it is right now. It's very difficult to keep track of the Democrat scandals playing out in the federal building right now. But that is a byproduct," Durkin said. "The mapmaking process and the absolute control that the Democrats have used in this process have led to the problems that are playing out and destroying the ethical fabric of this state."
Pritzker will veto a partisan map
Butler urged Pritzker and Democratic leaders of both chambers to call this proposal for a vote as soon as possible. Republicans hope they can gain bipartisan support since the bill language is now public for their colleagues to read.
"The Governor has been clear he will veto a partisan map," stated administration spokesman Jose Sanchez Molina. "His view is that legislative maps should reflect Illinois’ gender, racial, and geographic diversity, along with preserving the Voting Rights Act decisions that help ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process."
Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) argues it's not too late to use an independent process. He explained the proposal would require the commission to release a map a month after receiving the new census data.
"Illinois voters believe that any maps drawn by lawmakers are going to fulfill solely their self interest and their political purpose. Voters do not want lawmakers drawing their maps," Barickman said. "They do not want lawmakers picking their voters. The question for the public is whether you trust this General Assembly and this governor to draw the legislative maps in a fair process or whether you'd mandate that it go through an independent commission."
Senate Democrats respond
Democratic Senators Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims have already co-chaired a handful of hearings across the state for the Senate Redistricting Committee. The Chicago Democrats also responded to the Republican idea.
"Republicans have demonstrated they are more interested in complaining than participating in a meaningful way," stated Aquino and Sims. "While it is troubling Republicans only want to uphold the constitution when it is convenient to them, Senate Democrats remain committed to fulfilling our constitutional duty to enact a map that is not only fair but also reflects the diversity of the state of Illinois. Frankly, it’s difficult to believe Republicans are so worried about ensuring everyone is fairly represented after they spent last four years supporting President Trump’s efforts to purposefully undercount minority communities."
Barickman filed the language as an amendment to a trailer bill previously filed by McConchie. The amended Senate Bill 1325 awaits approval from the Assignments Committee. A previous version of the independent redistricting plan failed to move out of the House Rules Committee during the lame-duck session in January.