County and State Lawmakers Readying for Redistricting Process
Redrawing of political lines will begin with new census figures.
Lawmakers in Springfield and DuPage County are anticipating federal census figures in order to draw new lines of political representation in 2011.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the U.S. Census Bureau tallies population numbers across the nation. Once those numbers are in the hands of legislators, gerrymandering of Congressional, legislative and county representative lines will begin.
Lines for the DuPage County Board of Commissioners will be drawn by a handful of the members of the board. According to the minutes of the county redistricting committee, the members of the committee were looking to redistricting experts from the academic world and legal world for advice on drawing county lines. Calls and e-mails to members of the commission were not returned by press time.
Unlike Republican-controlled DuPage County, the Illinois General Assembly is controlled by Democrats. That means they control redistricting.
In theory redistricting sounds like an easy concept—draw legislative lines based on population. Illinois House districts would have a population of approximately 72,000 and Senate districts would have a population of approximately 145,000.
Kathy Nesburg, chairman of the redistricting committee for the Illinois League of Women Voters, said the way redistricting is done in Illinois is a system of rewards and punishments. Because the lines are drawn by the majority party, Nesburg said they use the power to their advantage to protect districts of incumbents and weaken districts held by the opposition party.
"With the elections over we know now how things will proceed," Nesburg said. "The Democrats control Springfield, so they will draw the lines to give their party the advantage."
If the Democrats complete the mapping process by May 31, then they do not have to seek any input from the Republican Party. Nesburg said the Census numbers will not be available until March. Once those numbers are in, the maps will quickly be drawn.
"The way it's evolved, redistricting is now about the elected officials picking their voters rather than voters actually picking them," Nesburg said. "It's now an incumbent protection device."
DuPage County includes eight Senate seats, 14 House seats, three Congressional seats and six county districts.
While the County Board will draw their lines, Nesburg said she expects the Democrats in Springfield to create districts that will reach out like fingers from Democratic suburban Cook County into areas of DuPage County in an effort to break up the heavily Republican districts.
"There are two concepts to redistricting—cracking and packing. You either pack a district with members of one party to make it a strong district, or you dilute voting strength," Nesburg said.
However, Nesburg said the Democratic leadership could opt to keep DuPage a strong Republican county legislatively in order to isolate them.
"You could try to take a cohesive area like DuPage County and try to break them, or you could keep them together so they don't bother you elsewhere. It will all depend on the census numbers and how Democrats did in parts of DuPage County this past election," she said.
There are instances when lawmakers cannot dilute voting strength based on ethnicity. That would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Nesburg said the city of Chicago, which is heavily Democratic, has lost some of its population due to the state of the economy. She said preliminary numbers show the collar counties, including DuPage, have gained in population. DuPage County has a pre-Census population of nearly 930,000.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam does not have a say in how the lines in his congressional district will be drawn. However, following his re-election to Congress, Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said he will keep his eyes on what the legislature is doing. Because of population shifts, it is possible Illinois will lose a congressional district.
State Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican who studies redistricting as a hobby, told USA Today that because Republicans gained House seats in Illinois, the Democrats in Springfield will have "a wealth of targets to pick on."