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Republicans demand transparent map data, advocates renew call for Democrats to wait for census data

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Republican lawmakers and non-partisan good government advocates continue to bash the first draft of Illinois’ Democrat-controlled map for the next decade. Legislators held a joint committee hearing with the redistricting groups Tuesday afternoon. 

While Democratic leaders released the map late Friday night, lawmakers and the public still want to see each district’s geographical boundaries and demographics. They also want to know the information Democrats used to craft the map besides data from the 2019 American Community Survey.

Tuesday night, Republicans pushed Democrats to explain when they’ll file the legislation for the new map. With six days left before adjournment, the legislation and bill sponsor is still unknown. Also, only one Democrat participated in person with Republicans during Tuesday’s hearing. The other Democratic members appeared virtually.

Nearly every advocacy group testifying before the committee asked lawmakers to wait on the mapping process until after the census data is ready in mid-August.

“There’s still time. We could back away from this ledge and hit the pause button,” said Jay Young, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois. “We can still appeal to the courts. I urge you in the most strenuous way, please take this opportunity.”

Advocate: “Don’t erase people from our maps”

Many advocates also addressed the frequent message from Democrats that lawmakers must approve the maps by June 30. In reality, that is only the requirement for partisan maps. Several states have already appealed for a change from their state Supreme Court.

Madeleine Doubek, Executive Director of Change Illinois, stressed lawmakers should’ve never used ACS data for the map. Doubek was one of many advocates pleading with Democrats to either move to an independent redistricting process or wait for the census data. Doubek said the ACS five-year estimate undercounts Illinois residents by tens of thousands.

“Erasing these people from our maps is the equivalent of erasing cities like Oak Park, Rock Island, Quincy or Buffalo Grove,” Doubek explained. “The ACS data misses 41,877 people. That’s more than one-third of a House district. These are real people whose representation matters.”

Doubek also noted that the state spent millions of dollars on the Census effort. Now, advocates feel Democrats will ignore the actual population count.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to claim that their maps are fair. However, they won’t release the data they used for the map until the time is right.

Meet the man behind the analysis

Democrats let a guest speak for the first half-hour of the hearing, explaining the history of redistricting and his accomplishments in fighting for voting rights. However, shortly after testimony ended, Republicans piled questions upon Dr. Allan Lichtman. The distinguished professor of history at American University explained the Illinois Senate and House hired him for consulting work for the past two redistricting periods.

After several failed attempts to get a straight answer about who hired Lichtman this year, Republicans found out House and Senate Democrats brought him on as a paid consultant on the redistricting process.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I give the same testimony, the same analysis no matter who I am retained by,” Lichtman said. “Otherwise, I would not have been an expert in over a hundred voting rights and civil rights cases.”

“We’ve had a paid witness using the first half hour of our time in a proceeding that is supposed to be gathering input from the public,” said Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria). “I hope we will have a chance to do so as we move forward.”

While lawmakers scheduled two hearings for Tuesday night, the initial discussion ended around 8:30 p.m. Democrats initially planned the second hearing for 6 p.m., yet members couldn’t start that meeting until closer to 8:50. For full transparency, no witnesses appeared to speak before the committee.

“Who drew the map?”

Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) joined the House Redistricting Committee to highlight some key problems groups had with the proposed map. He asked Leader Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) several times about the other data used in the drafting process. Still, Hernandez deflected each time only to say the data would come soon.

“You don’t have to compile future information to understand who drew a map that was offered several days ago,” Demmer explained. “Who drew the map that was offered several days ago?”

“Once again, it’s a draft based on ACS and community interest group information,” Hernandez said. “Today was about taking a look and listening to further information that needs to be possibly taken into consideration so that we can come up with the final map.”

Demmer stressed testimony at hearings is not a data source. Hernandez never addressed the use of other data, although Republicans and statehouse insiders believe Democrats used voter data.

The redistricting committees will meet again at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday.

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Mike Miletich

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