DuPage County Board members at odds over redistricting as deadline looms

  • Amy Chavez

    Amy Chavez

  • Jim Zay

    Jim Zay

 
 
Posted10/11/2021 5:30 AM

A once-in-a-decade process to redraw DuPage County's electoral boundaries looked to be winding down.

The county board committee responsible for the redistricting effort brought forth a map proposal that attorneys said passed legal muster.

 

Each of the six districts represented by board members must contain about the same number of people based on new U.S. census data. In the draft map, there was less than a 1% difference in population between districts, meeting a goal set by the committee.

Even mapmakers last week commended board members for a relatively smooth process. "Everybody seemed to be in consensus," said Jim Zay, the redistricting committee chairman.

But as the clock ticks toward a Nov. 17 deadline for county board members to approve a final map, some Democrats say they want to go back to the drawing board. First-term board member Amy Chavez made the formal request for alternatives last week after criticizing the redistricting plan. The committee will reconvene Tuesday.

"What I felt like is we ended up with a map that looks very much like the one that we've had for the last 10, 20, 30 years, and I'm trying to just make sure that we have a map that reflects DuPage County in 2021," said Chavez, a Naperville Democrat.

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However, Zay, the board's longest-serving member, said the request provided little detail to guide mapmakers.

"I don't get it. I don't think members of the committee get it. It's too broad," said Zay, a Carol Stream Republican. "It lacks specific direction."

Chavez sent a one-sentence directive to consultants from Grapple LLC, a firm hired by the county to help reshape district lines.

"I would like to see alternative maps using traditional redistricting parameters, taking out incumbency requirements," Chavez wrote in an email.

Zay said there are no incumbency requirements, but that officials try not to draw county board members and forest preserve commissioners out of their districts "if at all possible."

"But again, that wasn't an objective of it," Zay said. "Ours was to keep that deviation of the districts under 1% and to make communities contiguous and whole if we could, and that's what we did."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The stakes are high for both Democrats and Republicans. All 18 board seats are up for election in 2022 as a result of redistricting. With their board majority, Democrats have control over the process in DuPage, once-solid GOP turf.

The county grew slightly over the last decade, according to 2020 census data released in August. DuPage gained roughly 15,000 residents, bringing the population to 932,877.

"Legally, our maps from 10 years ago were still good," Zay said.

But census numbers showed a difference of roughly 10,000 people between District 2, in the eastern part of the county, and District 6, on the low end, in the northwestern corner. The committee sought to more evenly distribute the county's population among the six districts and tried to keep municipalities and townships substantially whole.

"That's something that I think we were able to significantly clean up while staying within the 1% deviation standards," consultant Josina Morita told board members.

Still, Chavez proposed drawing up other options using "alternative data points." During a committee meeting last week, she didn't specify what criteria should be applied.

"Do you want a Republican map? Do you want a Democratic map?" Zay asked Chavez. "Is that what you're looking at? Because that's what you asked for the other day."

Chavez on Friday said it's "not our intent at all to have partisan maps. That's not our intent whatsoever."

Democrat Sheila Rutledge of West Chicago also said the committee should make greater use of mapmakers who are being paid $50,000 for their consulting work.

"We hired them because of their map-drawing expertise, and I would like to see that expertise, how they would interpret it, interpret the data," Rutledge said.

She also floated the idea of reviewing a map created by the Democratic-led board of forest preserve commissioners.

District commissioners narrowly voted in August to establish their own electoral boundaries.

Even after the two boards splintered in 2002, the forest preserve commission had followed the county's representation map.

Zay said it's the county's responsibility and authority to draw a map and suggested redistricting committee members were making contradictory statements.

"They were saying, 'Well, we're paying our consultants $50,000. We should get the most out of them, but we want to see what a consultant we're not paying is giving us,'" Zay said.

If the board can't agree on a map by the Nov. 17 deadline, DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek can convene an apportionment commission to draw the boundaries.

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