As new legislative session begins, Illinois Democrats poised to control redistricting

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January 13, 2011

By Kyle Maichle

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois: As lawmakers were being sworn into office on January 12, 2011, to begin the 97th session of the Illinois General Assembly, Democrats are poised to control the redistricting process.[1][2]

Over the past thirty years, Democrats controlled the process during the 1980 and 2000 Censuses. Despite Republicans and other pro-voter groups were unsuccessful during 2010 to get the General Assembly implement major redistricting reforms, the Democrats could be able to draw maps to their benefit as long it complies with state and federal redistricting laws.[1]

On December 21, 2010, Illinois lost one congressional seat as the Census figures were released. This reduced the Land of Lincoln from 19 to 18 seats in Congress. With the state's congressional districts needing to be redrawn, it could be cause for concern to the Republicans. The GOP won a majority of Illinois 19 congressional seats on November 2, 2010. This included upset victories by Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois-14th District), Joe Walsh (R-Illinois-8th District), Robert Dold (R-Illinois-10th District), and Bobby Schilling (R-Illinois-16th District). A possible congressional redistricting strategy by the Democrats could be that districts near the Wisconsin border could be redrawn at the expense of removing Dold's or Hultgren's seat in order to challenge freshman Republican Joe Walsh in 2012.[3][4][5]

Despite Illinois has dealt with a years-long problem of odd-shaped legislative and congressional districts that have splintered voting blocks and communities of interest, both houses of the General Assembly approved legislation to require a minimum of four public hearings on any redistricting plan during the 2010-2011 lame duck session.[6] Governor Pat Quinn has not yet signed the bill into law.[6]

Lawmakers hope that more public involvement would prevent gerrymandered districts. One example is Illinois 17th Congressional District which was drawn in the 2000 Census to incorporate the cities of Decatur and Springfield along with the Quad Cities area to keep it under Democrat control.[1] Also, legislators who support more public involvement in redistricting hope that nearby cities could be kept together when the new boundaries are drawn.[1]

While Illinois will have the technology to redraw the maps, the final redistricting plan will be subject to review by a federal judge.[1] The deadline for the General Assembly to complete a redistricting plan is June 30, 2011. If the General Assembly fails to meet the deadline, a back-up commission must have a plan in place by October 5, 2011.

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