Republicans hope census delay will give them a role in drawing new political maps in Illinois

Census delay could affect mapping power

  • Dan McConchie

    Dan McConchie

Updated 3/20/2021 5:06 PM

Republican lawmakers see delays in the federal census as opening a potential route for them to influence the drawing of new political maps in Illinois, a task that otherwise would go to the Democratic majority.

The majority control of the once-per-decade remapping carries a June 30 deadline under the Illinois Constitution. Detailed census numbers will not arrive until August after delays attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers learned during a Senate hearing Wednesday.


Congressional and legislative boundaries typically are drawn in Illinois to benefit candidates from the dominant political party -- an advantage that lasts 10 years until the maps are adjusted again.

But if a new map is not drawn by June 30, a bipartisan commission with four members from each party chosen by party leaders is put in charge of mapmaking. Republicans are seizing upon that as a way to gain some say in the process.

"June 30 is the final date that Democrats can pass a map that is partisan; that they can guarantee is a partisan map," said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods. "After June 30 it goes to an evenly bipartisan commission with almost two months to be able to come up with a map that should be and ought to be fair."

If the commission remains divided on Aug. 10, a winner-take-all ninth member is chosen by drawing a name out of a replica of Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat.

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While some Republicans paint a bipartisan commission as the only option, Democrats have other ideas.

In hearings last week they discussed using population estimates to draw a map before the deadline, then perhaps returning to Springfield in September in a special session to redraw the maps again using the real census data. The General Assembly could ask courts for relief from the deadline or could attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to move the deadline, among other options.

Republicans say that any map drawn before the real census data is available will not only be partisan but be using "bad data."

"What I believe needs to happen is (Democrats) need to wait for the real data to come from the census and the constitution has a process we should follow at that point," McConchie said.

McConchie said he got the indication from Democrats during Wednesday's hearing that they plan to pass a map before the June 30 deadline.

There has long been a push in Illinois to make the mapmaking process independent, stripping power away from lawmakers to make their own map. A survey conducted by Change Illinois, a nonpartisan group that advocates for independent mapmaking, found that 75% of Illinois citizens favor an independent commission. Lawmakers from both parties have said they favor an independent commission, as well.

But Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, said she does not think lawmakers will go that direction during this cycle.

"I think that it is absolutely all about power and primarily about them wanting to pick their voters so they can keep their power and keep their seats and keep getting paid," Doubek said.

McConchie said Republicans favor reform and that Democrats' efforts to "maintain a partisan advantage" will only "fuel the fire" of citizens' wishes for independent mapmaking.

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