CHARLESTON — The U.S. Census Bureau's announcement that Illinois will lose a seat in Congress based on the results of the 2020 census was not a surprise to the chairmen of Coles County's Democratic and Republican parties.
"We had expected to lose a U.S. Congressional seat," said Travis Coffey, chair of the county Republican Party. "I think we had all kind of expected that coming down the pipeline."
Illinois will move from 18 to 17 seats in the U.S. House. There was some initial concern that an undercount could lead to the loss of two seats. The state has lost at least one congressional representative in eight of the last 9 decades after peaking at 27 seats in 1910 and remaining there until the 1940 census.
Six other states will also lose a seat, including California, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only three states to lose population over the past decade, Census Bureau officials said Monday. It’s the first time the Census Bureau logged a decade-over-decade population loss in the state.
Both Coffey and Mac White, chair of the county Democratic Party, said they will now be watching to see how the Illinois congressional map is redrawn and what will become of the 15th congressional district that currently includes Coles County and is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of Oakland.
White said Coles County's "voice might get drowned out" if it is shifted to the 13th congressional district, which includes portions of Champaign, Springfield and other bigger cities. Republican U.S. Rodney Davis currently represents the 13th district. He said Coles County might have more of a voice in the less populated 12th district, where Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost serves.
Coffey said some Republican leaders had been reluctant to run for the 15th district out of concerns that it could be eliminated after the 2020 census. Coffey said he feels that the downstate district will remain solidly Republican, even with the Democratic majority in the legislature exerting much control over the redrawing of the congressional map.
"I can't see them being able to draw it to make too much of a switch," Coffey said, adding that he does remained concerned about population decline in general.
Miller could not be reached for comment.
“Most people who build a statistical model on how much federal money does a state get will find that more seats means more money,” said Brian Gaines, political scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Census numbers weren't available Monday for counties or cities such as Chicago. Other estimates have put the city's population at 8.87 million, up 2.8% from a decade ago. But with solid Democratic control of such a tightly packed bloc of voters, few will notice change there.
With Democrats holding 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats, controlling the governor's office and dominating the state Legislature, little else should change, Gaines said. The 14th Congressional District, running from the top to the bottom of the Chicago metropolitan area on its far western edge, will likely be redrawn to boost Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Democrat who narrowly won a second term last fall by just over 1 percentage point over Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.
Democrats are likely to take another run at the 13th District in central Illinois, where Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, has won five straight elections in a district that already leans Democratic.
“We weren’t really expecting the partisan balance to shift very much,” Gaines said. "It’s already tilted in a way that slightly exaggerates how Democratic the state is.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in an unrelated news conference Monday that he was “concerned” about outmigration in the state, which he said has been taking place “for more than a decade.”
“We’ve got to turn that around,” Pritzker said. “That’s something that unfortunately before I became governor was a bit set in clay, if not stone. And now, we’re working very hard to make sure we’re going the right direction.”
Pritzker attributed the population loss primarily to college students who choose not to attend school in the state.
Under the state constitution, members of the General Assembly are tasked with drawing new legislative boundaries following the decennial census. The new legislative boundaries are then sent to the governor for approval or veto.
Census Bureau officials said that specific data used for redistricting would be provided by Sept. 30. The delay in official numbers could cause complications for Illinois’ redistricting process, which is currently underway.
Some Democratic state lawmakers have proposed using data from the American Community Survey in place of census data to create legislative and congressional district maps by the end of June as required by the constitution.
Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican who is the minority spokesperson on the House Redistricting Committee, said in a Monday news conference that ACS data provides “a small snapshot” of population data when compared to the census, and could risk leaving populations out of consideration.
“We've heard witness after witness testify at our redistricting hearings that ACS data does not fully represent minority communities, that it does not fully represent rural communities,” Butler said.
“As we've said all along throughout these hearings, ACS data is not what you need to use to draw the maps because it's not going to give you the granular data and the correct data,” he added.
Republicans have repeatedly called for an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw new legislative boundaries without taking partisan politics into consideration, a proposal which has not been entertained by members of the state’s Democratic supermajorities in either chamber.
“The maps need to be drawn, in my mind, without the political data put in them,” Butler said. “The most important data for the majority is going to be the political data and people's home addresses that they include in there, and they're going to draw the maps how they see fit probably.”
The Associated Press and Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.
A guide to political redistricting in Illinois
A guide to political redistricting in Illinois
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What is redistricting?
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What’s at stake for politicians and lawmakers?
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