Save the date? Welch gauges Democrats’ ‘availability for return to session’ — and perhaps to map-drawing board
A spokeswoman for Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said an email sent to House Democrats Wednesday is just checking availability for a possible return, but there hasn’t been “ any indication that changes are being made.
SPRINGFIELD — Depending on what a review of newly available population figures reveals, Illinois House Democrats could be asked to return to the state capital in about two weeks to make changes to legislative maps they pushed through the General Assembly in May.
“As staff continues to analyze the Census data released late last week, we are seeking to determine member availability for a return to session during the week of August 30 in the event that we decide to amend the legislative redistricting plan,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s chief of staff wrote in an email to members of the House’s Democratic Caucus on Wednesday.
“Staff will be following up with you to survey your availability during that week and we will keep you updated as decisions are made on any return to Springfield,” chief of staff Tiffany Moy wrote in the email.
Welch’s team is just checking availability for a possible return, but there hasn’t been “any indication that changes are being made,” a spokeswoman for the speaker told the Sun-Times.
“Our experts and attorneys are still analyzing data,” Jaclyn Driscoll said. “We’re just proactively reaching out to get a sense of schedules.”
On Monday, Illinois Republicans said the actual U.S. Census figures released last week prove their claim that political maps drawn by Democrats “in a closed room” this spring using population estimates are “unusable and unlawful.”
The state’s constitution mandates that legislative boundaries must be “substantially equal,” but the Republican lawmakers say that under the maps drawn by Democrats, population counts range from 92,390 in the state House’s 83rd District — which includes Aurora and North Aurora — to 124,836 in the Illinois House’s 5th District — which is part of Chicago. That’s a difference of 32,446 people.
Based on a test directed by the U.S. Supreme Court, that difference represents a total population range of 29.88%, which is three times the maximum range allowed by federal law, GOP leaders argue. The Republicans say that ensures that the boundaries “will be declared void.”
“Despite bipartisan pleas to wait for the Census number[s] like 48 other states, Illinois Democratic politicians that were led by Governor Pritzker ignored the voting rights of their own constituents in an attempt to hold absolute power for another decade,” Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said in a statement on Monday.
On Monday, Driscoll responded to the Republican lawmakers’ claims by saying that Democrats are still “analyzing the data. We have no further updates.”
Rather than wait for the official census figures that were not released until last Thursday, Democrats relied on estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, pushing their proposed maps through the state House and Senate in May before the end of session.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed them into law days later, saying they “help to ensure that communities that have been left out and left behind have fair representation in our government.”
The Democrats were racing to beat a June 30 deadline.
Had they failed to pass maps by then, the state constitution mandates the creation of an eight-person bipartisan panel to take over the task. And when that evenly split panel inevitably deadlocks, a ninth member is randomly chosen by the Illinois secretary of state — giving the Republicans a 50-50 chance of taking over the map-drawing tools.
McConchie and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, filed suit against their Democratic counterparts and the Illinois Board of Elections shortly after Pritzker signed the new legislative boundaries into law in June.
In their suit, the Republican leaders argue the Democrats robbed “citizens of a fair and transparent legislative map-making process” and took issue with the use of estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Those estimates “are not intended to be, and are not, a proper substitute for the official census counts” and any maps relying on those “estimates cannot create substantially equal legislative districts,” they argue in the suit.
Along with asking the court to rule the maps unconstitutional, the leaders asked the court to take the map-making out of the hands of legislators, either through the creation of a bipartisan commission or for a court-appointed “special master” to draw “valid” maps.