By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Despite opposition from Republicans as well as reform groups, Gov. JB Pritzker on Sept. 24 signed into law the revised state legislative district maps that lawmakers passed in August, opening the door to almost certain court challenges.
“These legislative maps align with the landmark Voting Rights Act and will help ensure Illinois’ diversity is reflected in the halls of government,” Pritzker said in a statement.
But not everyone agrees that the maps do reflect the state’s diversity. The political action arm of the reform group CHANGE Illinois issued a statement arguing that they actually dilute minority voting power.
“Many major groups agree the new maps reduce the numbers of majority Black voting age population districts and majority Latino voting age population districts,” the group said in a statement. “The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s lawyers have said they believe the state representative and Senate maps dilute Latino voting power. The Latino Policy Forum asked Pritzker to veto the maps for the same reason. Illinois African Americans for Equitable Redistricting also said the maps do not create enough Black majority voting age districts.”
Lawmakers initially adopted maps during the spring legislative session in order to meet the state constitution’s June 30 deadline, despite the fact that they didn’t yet have the official, detailed U.S. Census data needed to draw districts with nearly equal population.
Republican leaders, as well as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, quickly filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago arguing that they were unconstitutional because they were based on population estimates from survey data rather than official census numbers.
When the official numbers finally came out in mid-August, they did in fact show that population variances between districts were far outside what is allowed under U.S. constitutional law, prompting Democratic leaders to call a special session to adjust the new maps.
Republicans argue, however, that those maps were passed well after the state constitution’s June 30 deadline and, therefore, the task should be given to a bipartisan commission, a process in which Republicans would have a 50-50 chance of gaining a partisan advantage.
That decision will ultimately be up to the courts.
There have been efforts in the past in Illinois to establish a permanent nonpartisan commission to redraw maps every 10 years, an idea that Pritzker and many Democratic lawmakers have said they support. But no such plan has gotten through the General Assembly.
“Governor Pritzker’s signing of the legislative maps sends a clear picture of the severity of his ‘retrograde amnesia’ and efforts to deceive Illinois citizens,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said in a statement. “The governor now joins the multitude of Democratic legislators who lied to voters by campaigning for and promising ‘fair maps.’”
“Rarely do politicians get the chance to break a campaign promise twice,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods. “I am deeply disappointed that Gov. Pritzker has turned his back on the many minority organizations that have asked him to protect their voting rights outlined in the constitution and Voting Rights Act by vetoing this gerrymandered map.”
(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.)