What's at stake and what's next in redistricting?

May 19, 2011

This is a long time coming.

After months of debate over (mostly unsuccessful) proposals to change how Illinois draws its legislative boundaries, and weeks of public hearings all over the state for interest groups to tell lawmakers about their communities, a draft map for the Illinois Senate is out. (The state House and U.S. House maps are not yet released.)

The Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee posted its proposal this morning on its website. If you download Google Earth, it's really easy to zoom all over the place to check out the boundaries. Otherwise you'll have to settle for PDFs that don't offer much detail.

The proposals will be picked apart over the next few hours and days. Look for some communities to be happy, others to be angry. Look for most Democrats to be pleased, while many Republicans will be petrified. (Check out the early reaction to the map at Capitol Fax, and from our very own Kristen McQueary.)

Make no mistake about it: redistricting is about power - the power of municipalities, minority groups and political parties. And with Democrats controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office, they are firmly in control of the redistricting process at this point. If they get the maps finalized before the end of May, they won't need any Republican votes to pass them.

In a win for activists who've argued for this all along, the Senate committee has announced it will hold public hearings to accept testimony on the draft map. Whereas in previous hearings an interest group could tell lawmakers in general about its community, the group can now speak specifically to how the draft map helps or hurts its influence.

The first hearing is set for Saturday afternoon in Chicago, with the second scheduled for next Tuesday morning in Springfield.