Democrats set to OK new legislative maps over criticism

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Democrats on Tuesday are expected to approve new legislative boundaries over objections from Republicans and some community groups that the process was unnecessarily rushed and maps drawn behind closed doors to keep Democrats in power.

Tuesday’s vote is a do-over of maps that majority Democrats approved and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed earlier this year. Those maps prompted lawsuits from top Illinois Republicans and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino civil rights organization, who argued they were flawed and unconstitutional because they were based on population estimates from the American Community Survey rather than the 2020 census.

With the release of census data this month, Democratic leaders said the maps would be adjusted and the Illinois Legislature would return to Springfield for another vote. That could ensure Democrats continue to control the map-making process, rather than risk having a judge throw out the maps or allow a bipartisan commission to take over the job — a process that could end with Republicans having the final say.

The new maps, which House and Senate Democrats posted online for the first time Monday afternoon, will be used in elections for the next decade.

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, a Democrat from Cicero who leads the House Redistricting Committee, said Monday the new boundaries “better reflect the data we recently received from the U.S. Census and ensure communities are represented by the people of their choice.”

Republicans have blasted Democrats, saying hastily called and sparsely attended public hearings held over the past week were a sham because boundaries were already being drawn in a secret, Democrat-controlled process.

Witnesses who testified at those hearings urged Democrats to post proposed maps and give the public as much as 30 days — or more — to weigh in before a vote is taken.

Ami Ghandi, senior counsel for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, told members of the redistricting committees it was “unreasonable” to expect voters to provide input without maps to react to. The Rev. Robin Hood, representing Black voters in Chicago, said people felt “disgust” at being left out of the process.

Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, said the maps the Legislature will vote on Tuesday “will not be crafted of public input, but of pure politics.”

“At each opportunity in this redistricting process, it’s as if lawmakers went out of their way to ensure the creation of these maps had as little public input as possible,” Young said.

Legislators have historically used census data for redistricting, or the process of redrawing political maps every 10 years to reflect changes in population and ensure, among other things, that districts are roughly equal in population. But with the release of 2020 census data delayed this year because of the pandemic, Democrats opted to use the American Community Survey to meet a June 30 deadline set in the state constitution.

If the Legislature didn’t meet that deadline, an eight-member commission would be created with an equal number of Democrat and GOP lawmakers. If that group were unable to approve a map, a ninth member would be picked at random to break the tie.

Republicans are hoping that a federal judge will throw out Democrats’ maps and order that process begin.

Illinois Democrats have not yet voted on new congressional district boundaries. The state consitution doesn’t set a deadline for those maps to be approved, so legislators opted to wait for the census data before drawing those maps. Illinois is losing a congressional seat, and Democrats are expected to eliminate a GOP-held district.

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