The first data set of the Census Bureau’s decennial count of every human in the United States has been released. Last year, because of the pandemic and Trump administration, there were delays in collecting data, and as a result, the release of that data has been delayed. So while we have the first block of data that determines which states’ populations changed enough to warrant gaining or, in Illinois’ case, losing a seat to the US House of Representatives, we don’t yet have the specific data that tells us exactly where in those states changes occurred. The information that will be used to determine state legislative maps will not be released until August or even September, but we can still extrapolate what it might mean for us here in Champaign-Urbana. But first, what is redistricting?
Redistricting is when lawmakers redraw and re-determine the boundaries for state and federal legislative districts. It is done every decade, after new census data are released. This data reflects updates in population and demographics — that is, how many people and who (demographically, not specifically) lives where. Here in Illinois, there are currently 17 federal districts, and 100+ state districts.
IL-13, for instance, is a federal district that spans from Champaign-Urbana southwest to the outskirts of St. Louis. The size of the district is great enough that the population of the Republican-leaning rural areas outweigh the Democratic-leaning urban ones. This is why we are stuck with a representative like Republican Rodney Davis. On the state level, there are many more districts; in C-U, you likely live in districts 102, 103, or 104 for the Illinois House, and district 52 for the Illinois Senate. Districts are much smaller, and because people tend to live in homogeneous neighborhoods, around similarly minded people, there’s a good chance your elected representative shares your political party.
The Illinois state constitution requires redistricting decisions to be made by June 30th. The Illinois General Assembly (with its Democratic supermajority) draws the maps. If lawmakers cannot present and adopt new maps by that deadline, the process is kicked out to a bipartisan committee with a deadline of August 10th. It’s a very boring and detailed process that is better detailed here. There are many political implications for the groups that have the power to draw the maps, but undoubtedly greater and potentially more dire implications for Illinois residents who have little (but not no) say in how things are done.
The delay in the release of census data coupled with the loss of a Congressional seat has state lawmakers in a state. Without official 2020 census data available, many Democrats want to use data from the American Community Survey (ACS), but that data set is smaller and less detailed than the census data, and therefore not entirely reflective of specific communities. It’s obviously in Democrats’ best interest to move forward and try to meet the June 30th deadline, but Republicans are crying foul because that granular data is not yet available. (Though if the situation were reversed, Republicans would do the same exact thing; the hypocrisy is tiresome.) Meanwhile, Representative Rodney Davis (R; IL-13) is having a Twitter fit about Governor Pritzker walking back campaign comments about wanting an independently drawn map, but Pritzker doesn’t have the power to determine who draws the maps — that is determined by the state constitution — Pritzker only has power to veto maps. Attempts to change the constitution to allow for more “independent” commissions to draw the maps were shot down by the Illinois Supreme Court twice in the last decade.
With all of this happening, where does that leave us here in Champaign-Urbana?
Illinois will lose one House seat when the new maps are drawn. Realistically, it's not likely that any tangible change will happen in terms of representation here in C-U. IL-13 may be dissolved, or reconfigured with another dissolved district, but the overwhelming red will remain; that’s just the nature of downstate politics. One possibility of creating a more blue district is if IL-13 was redrawn to pull in portions of St. Clair county, which includes Belleville and East St. Louis.
Though we came close to ousting Rodney Davis in 2018, the 2020 margins were much wider. Of course, the district could be redrawn to make it more competitive, though it’s more likely that Southern Illinois will be consolidated into two districts. This means that Republicans Mary Miller (IL-15), Mike Bost (IL-12), and Rodney Davis (IL-13) could be competing against each other. Kelsey Landis of the Belleville-News Democrat recently put it succinctly:
If her district is eliminated, Miller could face either of two more senior Republican congressmen: Mike Bost of Murphysboro or Rodney Davis of Taylorville. It could put both Bost and Davis to the test of how far they are willing to go to support the far-right and pro-Trump ideologies Miller espouses.
That is a frightening prospect.
However, if IL-13 is dissolved, Davis has indicated that he might seek the governorship. That, as we discussed a few weeks ago, would be disastrous. Regardless, we’re not particularly hopeful about getting a Democrat elected in whatever new district contains C-U.
There hasn’t been much reporting on the potential state-wide repercussions of redistricting. In C-U, we don’t expect much, if anything, to change in terms of numbers of reps to Springfield. The state is losing residents, but C-U’s population is relatively stable, and even growing just a little. The shifts may come in the form of the politics and values of who is living here. Is C-U getting more progressive? Are the surrounding areas getting more conservative? Has there been enough change to adjust the type of candidates who will do well in these areas? That remains to be seen.
Redistricting happens at the hyper-local level, too. Some city council districts may need to be adjusted depending on how the block by block population and demographics breakdown.There is concern that using data from the ACS will greatly undercount immigrant communities in C-U. According to Gloria Yen, Director of the University YMCA’s New American Welcome Center, 51% of the immigrant population in Champaign County arrived after the 2010 census, and waiting for that granular data from the Census Bureau will provide a clearer picture, resulting in more effective and accurate allocation of funds throughout the county.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.