Illinois Democrats’ proposed state House districts would replace straight lines through southern Kenwood and Hyde Park — Woodlawn Avenue and Ellis Avenue, respectively — with jagged, block-by-block delineations between the 25th and 26th districts should their redistricting proposal pass through the General Assembly by May 31.
In the proposed plan, the 25th District, currently represented by Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II, would continue encompassing all of North Kenwood — its northern boundary would be 43rd Street. It would include all of Kenwood between 47th and 49th streets and Drexel Boulevard to the lakefront and then the part between 49th, Hyde Park Boulevard, Woodlawn Avenue and the lakefront.
The 25th District would include most of Hyde Park, though the 26th District would include two square blocks north of 55th Street, by the Friend Family Health Center, 800 E. 55th St., and parts of the University of Chicago campus, including the athletic complexes, the U. of C. Medical Center and the Main Quadrangle.
The 26th District, represented by Rep. Kambium Buckner, also includes Washington Park, but no part of the adjacent neighborhood with the same name, which would continue being drawn into the 5th District, represented by Rep. Lamont Robinson. That district would continue to include part of West Woodlawn, though no longer delineated linearly by Cottage Grove Avenue.
The 5th District’s Woodlawn boundaries would be pushed east; the 26th District would include a strip of the neighborhood on either side of the Metra tracks, while the 25th District would only include a small section by Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
The 13th Senate District, represented by Sen. Robert Peters, comprises the 25th and 26th House districts; it would continue overlaying all of Hyde Park-Kenwood. The 3rd Senate District, represented by Sen. Mattie Hunter, covers all of the 5th and 6th House districts.
As Politico Illinois has observed, significantly more of Chicago’s 20th Ward, for which Hunter is the Democratic committeewoman, has been mapped into the 3rd Senate District.
South Shore and most of Bronzeville would continue being split between the 5th, 25th and 26th House districts.
The proposed new maps establish new lines for the General Assembly’s 59 Senate districts and 118 House districts, an action the Illinois Constitution requires lawmakers to take at least once every 10 years following the decennial census.
But the census process has been delayed this time around because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of natural disasters in 2020, which combined to make it nearly impossible for census workers to get accurate and timely counts of residents in many parts of the country.
That has complicated things in Illinois, where the state constitution gives lawmakers only until June 30 to complete the mapmaking process. After that, it is handed to an eight-member bipartisan commission, which would take away the Democrats’ partisan advantage.
And if that commission fails to produce maps by Aug. 10, the name of a ninth member from one of the two parties is drawn at random by the secretary of state and added to the group, and the deadline is extended to Oct. 5.
So instead of waiting on census data and extending the timeline to automatically trigger the commission process, Democrats have said they are relying on other data sources, including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which uses sampling to estimate population shifts on an ongoing basis.
“The U.S. Census Bureau works year-round to track population shifts with the American Community Survey,” Democrats said in a news release on the night of May 21. “The most recent ACS data varies by just 0.3% from the state’s official population count released by the U.S. Census Bureau in April 2021.”
While that may be true on a statewide basis, many watchdog groups have argued that it is less true when it comes to tracking smaller populations such as small towns and rural areas where the sampling error rate can be much higher.
Immediately following the release of the proposed maps, a group of 24 voting rights advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters Chicago, the Better Government Association, Change Illinois, Blackroots Alliance and One Health Englewood, issued a joint statement urging lawmakers to reject maps based on ACS data.
“While the delay from the U.S. Census Bureau was unprecedented, the current predicament is manufactured by lawmakers for partisan advantage,” the statement read in part.
Those groups argued that instead of using incomplete or inaccurate data, lawmakers should ask the Illinois Supreme Court for relief from the state constitutional deadlines as the states of California and Oregon did.
Democrats, however, have defended the process, arguing that their proposed maps incorporate input they received following an extensive series of public hearings held over the last few months. They also said the maps are designed to ensure fair representation across demographic lines in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.
“Redistricting is about making sure all voices are heard, and that’s exactly what this map accomplishes,” Southwest Side Sen. Omar Aquino ( D-2nd), who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee, said in the news release. “This is a fair map that reflects the great diversity of our state and ensures every person receives equal representation in the General Assembly.”
In addition to the ACS data, Democrats have also said they would use additional data sources to obtain accurate counts, but so far they have not disclosed what those data sources are, despite assurances that they would make all the data public.
“Yes, you will know all the data that was used to determine, yes,” Cicero Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th), chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said during a news conference one day before Democrats released the maps without divulging the info.
In a separate news conference on May 24, Republicans blasted the proposed maps as a blatant attempt to ensure Democrats retain their supermajorities while undercounting minority populations.
“This is Gerrymandering 101,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (82nd), of Western Springs. “And it's impossible to determine whether or not minority interest will be protected. But we do know that when you use ACS data, we know for a fact that minorities will be underrepresented using that information.”
Durkin also said that Republicans have not tried to draft their own map proposal because they don’t think maps should be based on anything other than official census data. He also said the GOP is “keeping our options open” as to whether it will file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the maps.
Springfield Rep. Tim Butler (R-87th), who is the minority spokesperson on the House Redistricting Committee, echoed that sentiment.
“Redistricting is often litigated, not only in Illinois, but around the country,” Butler said. “It was litigated in Illinois 10 years ago. ... Many of the advocacy groups have talked about litigation or potentially going to the Supreme Court and things like that as well.
“So, you know, I would assume any of the 12.8 million people in Illinois would have standing to go to the courts to talk about how terrible these maps are. And we'll see if that happens if the governor doesn't veto these things.”
Democrats, on the other hand, counter that unlike some state constitutions, the Illinois Constitution does not require the use of official census data, and that because of the unusual delays this year, it is appropriate to use the best data available.
Lawmakers opened their first public hearing on May 25 on the proposed set of maps with Democrats and Republicans still at sharp odds over how the maps were drawn and whether or not they are fair.
Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington, who was hired as a consultant by the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, testified that in his opinion, ACS data is acceptable to use for redistricting because in the five years leading up to the 2010 census, those estimates for Illinois were off by only about 0.3%.
“Nationally, there is no requirement under law or the constitution in Illinois that only decennial U.S. census data can be used for redistricting,” he said. “In fact, the majority of states, I repeat that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, do not explicitly require that you must use only decennial census data for internal redistricting purposes, particularly of course when such data is not available or delayed.”
He also praised Illinois for legislative maps produced in the past that enabled Black and Hispanic communities to gain representation in the General Assembly that roughly mirrors their numbers in the state population as a whole.
But upon questioning from Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie (26th), of Hawthorn Woods, among others, Lichtman said he could not tell whether the proposed maps released over the weekend would accomplish the same thing because he had not seen the demographic data that was used to draw them.
Rep. Hernandez said the maps before the committee were only a draft, but McConchie said the committee still needed to see the demographic numbers.
“How can we appropriately measure the draft without the numbers?” he asked.
Hernandez said those numbers would be forthcoming, but McConchie insisted lawmakers needed them before they could consider the proposed maps.
“We’re looking at shapes on a map,” he said. “That doesn’t give us the level of detail necessary … There’s no data.”
Other Republicans complained that the proposed maps still have not been put into bill form, which would provide legal descriptions of the boundaries of each district.
Meanwhile, Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, argued against using ACS estimates for redistricting.
“The maps unveiled Friday night (May 21) are built on old flawed data that never was meant to be used for redistricting,” she said. “We and many other organizations and community members have said this repeatedly. The American Community Survey five-year estimates undercount Illinoisans by tens of thousands.”
Rep. Tarver questioned her about the aforementioned statement by 24 voting rights and advocacy groups that claimed the ACS data undercounted Illinoisans by 41,877 people.
"We know this undercount likely has a great effect on people of color. It’s beyond alarming and disappointing," it read in part. "For too long, Black communities have historically been underrepresented, under-resourced, and targeted by large-scale misinformation campaigns designed to further disenfranchise them."
The letter also said that Asian American and Latino people were likely to be undercounted in ACS sampling and expressed concern about a high likelihood that people in fast-growing Illinois counties would be, too.
Tarver said those organizations had offered no proof in their letter and wanted to know the specific probability that people of color had been undercounted, targeted by misinformation campaigns and under-resourced.
Doubek responded that the Census Bureau had five-year estimates that they missed 41,877 Illinoisans and that she "would think it's a reasonable conclusion that that would include Black people, Brown people, Asian people, White people and definitely some of our fastest-growing communities who would not necessarily respond to government surveys and data, particularly communities that move around a lot and are more mobile may not respond to something like this.
“They didn't have the benefit of the trusted partnerships that so many organizations worked towards during the census," she said.
Hancock reported from Springfield. Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.