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Metro East Could Lose Congressional Seat After Census Redistricting

Lawmakers in Illinois will draw new congressional district boundaries following the results of the 2020 census. The state will lose one of its house seats, and that loss could come from the Metro East.
Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
Lawmakers in Illinois will draw new congressional district boundaries following the results of the 2020 census. The state will lose one of its House seats, and that loss could come from the Metro East.

The Metro East could lose a congressional district for the next 10 years because of a decline in the state’s population.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced in April that Illinois is one of seven states to lose a congressional seat in the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

The Illinois General Assembly, controlled by Democratic supermajorities in both chambers, now must draw a map for 17 House districts because of a slight population decline in the past decade.

“Their goal is going to be to make sure the seat that Illinois loses is a Republican seat,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, who’s also worked on redistricting issues in Illinois in the past.

A successful map for Democrats would retain the seats they already hold to help the party keep control of the House of Representatives, he said.

This goal is particularly critical given that most of the states nationwide gaining seats lean Republican, said John Shaw, who directs the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

“Both state and national Democrats are very concerned on having Illinois still have a heavily Democratic tilt,” he said.

Changes to the Metro East

Shaw expects the final map will change the districts that include the Metro East in big ways.

The area is currently represented by Republicans Mike Bost (12th District), Rodney Davis (13th) and Mary Miller (15th).

“It seems likely the 12th, 13th and 15th districts in Illinois — roughly the southern half of the state — are going to be expanded geographically so that they are larger districts,” Shaw said.

Redfield suggested state Democrats could shave away more Republican-leaning parts of Davis’ district and link some of the downstate Democratic strongholds in the Metro East, Springfield and Champaign-Urbana.

Some redistricting observers have said state Democrats could write maps that give their party an even larger advantage than they already enjoy, but flipping a GOP held seat on top of eliminating one would be difficult, Redfield said.

It’s unlikely redistricting in the state will produce a strong Democratic district downstate, despite scattered strongholds, Shaw said. The electoral trends in that part of the state are not friendly to Democrats, he added.

“It’s becoming an even stronger Republican base,” Shaw said.

He expects more attention on ensuring the 17th District, an area in northwestern Illinois currently represented by outgoing Rep. Cheri Bustos, remains controlled by a Democrat.

State lawmakers will also have to contend with demographic shifts around Chicago, where the Black population declined and the Latino population increased, Redfield said.

“A situation where you’ve got three African American incumbents and one Hispanic incumbent, when the census data may say you really need two Hispanic districts and two African American districts,” he said.

The main focus of Illinois Democrats will be to craft districts that protect their 13 current House seats, which are mainly upstate, Redfield said. Once those are satisfied, the rest becomes a process of filling enough people into the remaining districts to withstand a court challenge, he added.

“That’s the problem with partisan maps,” he said. “You satisfy your partisan advantage, and then the minority party’s districts become afterthoughts.”

And this could result in the elimination of one Metro East district simply because Republicans currently represent it.

State redistricting

But the considerations of new congressional districts likely aren’t a top priority for state lawmakers right now as they stare down a constitutional requirement to draw new district boundaries for spots in the state House and Senate, Redfield said.

“There’s no risk in terms of the congressional map getting into a situation where the Republicans could have control of the process,” he said. “That’s a real danger if you don’t produce a map before the 30th of June on the state legislative districts.”

If the legislature doesn’t complete a state map by the end of June, it would go to an eight-member commission evenly appointed by the state’s two top Democrats and Republicans. If the commission can’t reach agreement by mid-August, the tie-breaker is a random lottery pick.

To avoid going past the June deadline, Redfield expects Democrats will use population estimates from the Census Bureau to draw maps instead of the official 2020 results, which have been delayed.

This has drawn the ire of GOP lawmakers calling the move hypocritical after Illinois poured millions of dollars into census outreach.

“During that time, everyone — the governor and everyone said — ‘We have to do this to make sure our Census data is right so that you, the voter, are accurately represented in your government,’” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has said he will veto any legislative district maps that he considers unfair.

But Shaw expects Pritzker will say the maps the legislature draws are fair.

“A party that controls the governor’s mansion, the House and the Senate is inevitably going to write maps in a way that is advantageous to them,” Shaw said. “That is just a cosmic law of 21st-century politics.”

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.