Editorial: Census delays are one more reason for Democrats to loosen control over remapping
Cynics have long said Illinois will give up partisan control of the all-important remapping process when hell freezes over.
Is a worldwide pandemic coupled with widespread natural disasters close enough to that cataclysm? Maybe it is.
That series of unfortunate events is delaying the census, destroying some constitutionally mandated deadlines in Illinois and causing havoc with Illinois Democrats' plans to dominate map-drawing. We urge them to bow to circumstances and give residents a chance at political maps that are drawn for more fair and equitable representation.
Why are legislative and congressional district boundaries so important? It's easy for whomever is drawing the maps to give an advantage to favored candidates and a cudgel to others, who can find themselves in unwinnable districts or without districts at all.
Once boundaries are drawn, they don't change for a decade. The dominant political party -- Democrats, in Illinois -- gains a 10-year advantage. Years of reformers trying to change that in Illinois, by constitutional amendment, legislative action and citizen petition, have failed.
Enter the pandemic.
A March 31 federal deadline for delivery of 2020 census data is going out the window, with the Census Bureau citing a halt in in-person counting because of COVID-19 as well as difficulty tallying people in areas hit by calamities from hurricanes to wildfires.
This puts Illinois Democrats in a tough spot, as our reporter JJ Bullock wrote this week after lawmakers learned census numbers on which new maps are based will not arrive until at least August.
The Illinois Constitution allows the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to keep control only if it approves legislative maps by June 30. The job then goes to an eight-member bipartisan commission, but that commission has to get it done by Aug. 10. At that point, a ninth member's name is pulled out of a hat, making him or her the tiebreaker and kingmaker.
Illinois lawmakers don't face the same deadlines on Congressional maps, but a federal voting rights bill would mandate those maps be drawn by independent commissions. It cleared the U.S. House this month.
Democrats are not blind to the problems of partisan maps: Across the country they are decrying gerrymandering in Republican-controlled states like Texas. Those complaints ring hollow if they refuse to end gerrymandering in a state like ours.
Rather than spending time devising ways to keep control, Illinois Democrats should open up how remapping is handled. Naming a bipartisan commission to govern the process would tamp down the impact of the missed state deadlines through a good-faith effort to reach a consensus, no matter when the census numbers come in.
This might be unrealistically optimistic. On the other hand, new Democratic House Speaker Chris Welch and many other state lawmakers have said they are for "fair maps," and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he'll veto a gerrymandered map.
It's time to put some action behind those sentiments.