Data used in proposed maps imprecise, local leaders urge "Wait"

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Proposed map of downstate legislative districts

The doors to the mapping room on the second floor of the Stratton Building in Springfield opened Friday evening, pouring forth the first of the new maps designed to govern the face of Illinois and its Congressional Legislature for the next 10 years. 

Every 10 years, after the Census is complete, the state of Illinois re-draws the maps, taking into consideration movements in population, and increases or decreases in overall population. Congressional maps are generally based on Census data, and must be exactly equal. Census blocks are just that, mapping the location of people down to the location on a city block, per the Illinois Constitution Article 4, Section 3, on Legislative redistricting.

Illinois doesn't necessarily have to toe such a fine line. Close, within a few dozen people is the criteria within the Illinois Legislative maps. What also is in the verbiage in the Illinois Constitution is that maps must be “compact and contiguous”. Meaning that the district must make sense, not wander and all portions should be connected. What the 1971 Illinois constitution also says, is that all communities of color, defined in the Illinois Constitution as "communities of interest" should be kept together, and not dissected to concentrate or dilute their influence on a district. 

2020  has wreaked havoc on many things, including the 2020 Census. Because of the numerous setbacks in getting the data in a timely and complete fashion, the Census data will not be available until mid-August, at the earliest. 

The data that is being used in the Stratton inner sanctum, is supplied by the American Community Survey. It is a demographic survey program conducted by the Census Bureau. It samples approximately 3.5 million households, (332,200,000 is the population in the United States). It has reputedly a 90% accuracy rate, regarding populations, this fact taken from their own website.  The US Census tells us how many people live in the United States and where, the American Community Survey collects much more information, telling us how the people in the United States live.

Public Law 94-171 enacted by Congress in December 1975, requires the Census Bureau to provide states the opportunity to identify the small area geography for which they need data in order to conduct legislative redistricting.  It does not state when the data needs to be presented. 

Why does the accuracy of the districts matter?  The most accurate data available creates the most evenly populated districts. It also does more than that.  An accurate count will keep map makers from crowding or diluting minorities within a district, drawing the map for partisan gain, or to pit two popular incumbents against each other.

Denise Bulat, the Executive Director of the Bi-State Regional Commission in Rock Island, answered inquiries regarding the validity of the ACS data v. Census data. "Census data when mapping districts is definitely preferred, as it is a complete count.  The ACS is a sampling over a 10 year period of 1/6 of the population in a community or county. It is not as accurate."  Bi-State's staff provides assistance with information and resources on planning, zoning and subdivision regulations, land use planning, infrastructure and service planning, including various data and information services to the Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa communities it serves. 

During his 2018 campaign for election, Governor JB Pritzker indicated he would support a Fair Map initiative.  But as recently as April of 2021, the Governor backpedaled on the promise, “I do believe that Democrats and Republicans should get together to adopt this map,” Pritzker said. “I hope that Republicans will choose to work with Democrats on the map. Right now it looks like they’re just saying ‘no,’ they’re not really engaging and all they’re doing is fighting in these redistricting hearings.”

Jan Weber, Henry County Republican chairman, and State Central Committeewoman stated " I made sure I sent in my Census form on time, I reminded friends and family to send theirs in as well.  By not using the Census information I feel that Springfield is taking away my representation. It is wrong to not use the Census data in drawing the maps."

The process is that if the 3 Democrats and the 3 Republicans in the inner sanctum do not come to terms on a map, they inject new parties into the process. The Illinois Constitution calls for one Representative, one Senator and one party member who is not in the Legislature from each party to serve on the mapping committee. If an agreeable map is not created by June 30, the committee expands to eight members, no more than four from either party. This group has til August 10 to come to a consensus. 

If there is still no agreed upon map by August 10, the Supreme Court will select two more persons, one from each party, and they will call forth Secretary of State Jesse White to flip a coin to choose one more Democrat/Republican to join the team. Both times in 20 years this has occurred, and Jesse White sent another Democrat to the mapping room.

In a recent conversation with Rep. Ryan Spain, ( R ) Peoria, who has introduced Fair Map legislation multiple times since 2016, it was his advice that the mapping committee wait for the Census data and create the map at that time. “It would be likely that the timeline would be extended on creation of the Constitutional map, as the data used for it was not available. What we can do, is have a shorter filing time for candidates in the Fall, or move the primary back a month, from March to April. These things are not mandated, but the Census data for the map is.”

Most recently, a bill was introduced by Rep. Ryan Spain ( R) Peoria, Tim Butler ( R ) Springfield, and Jackie Hass ( R ) Kankakee in the recent January Lame Duck session. The bill was never called for vote. “ I have brought this to the floor every year since 2017” stated  Rep.Spain.