Population declines in Illinois the past decade mean the state, as expected, will lose one seat from its current 18-member congressional delegation, federal Census officials confirmed Monday.
The Census Bureau reported that Illinois’ 2020 population stood at 12,812,508, which represented a .1% decline from 2010. It’s the first time since at least 1910 that the state lost population.
With its loss of 18,124 residents the past decade, Illinois was among only three states in the current headcount to lose residents since the previous census. The other two were Mississippi and West Virginia.
That reality and its impact on the state’s clout in Congress will set into motion a potentially months-long process in Springfield to determine which congressional seat merges with another and who exactly is odd-man or -woman out. It’s a political drama with ramifications for the 2022 statewide elections.
On Monday, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker voiced disappointment over the state’s lessened congressional footprint, which will remain a fact of Illinois political life for the next decade until the 2031 reapportionment.
“I mean, I’m concerned about it,” said Pritzker, who eventually will have to sign off on whatever congressional map the Democratic-led legislature sends to him.
Appearing at a press conference in Aurora, the governor said part of the state’s population declines related to an outflow of college students, driven from Illinois by skyrocketing tuition and shrinking financial support from the state.
“That’s something that, unfortunately, before I became governor was really a bit set in play, if not stone, and now we’re working very hard to make sure we’re going the right direction,” Pritzker said.
Illinois is among seven states that lost congressional seats.
Since 1970, Illinois has lost seven congressional seats, according to Census data.
Republicans in Springfield seized on Illinois being mentioned in the same breath as Mississippi and West Virginia when it comes to being the only states in the country to post population declines since 2010.
For that, they blamed Democrats who have held complete control of the legislature and governor’s office for all but four of the past 18 years.
“The 2020 Census numbers show that Americans continue to vote with their feet,” Illinois Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said in a statement. “People are leaving states where they can’t find economic opportunity and heading to states where they can. If we want to keep our talent and our tax base, our top priority should be passing pro-growth policies that will make Illinois more attractive to students, employers and families.”
House Republicans also joined in.
“If our state is not growing, it is dying,” said state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria.
There likely will be a push in Illinois, despite the diminished size of its delegation, to boost the number of Democratic congressional members from the state as part of the party’s overall bid to retain control of the U.S. House next year. Currently, there are 13 Democrats and five Republicans representing Illinois in the House.
A state constitutional mandate to finish up apportionment in Illinois by June 30 — or cede the process to a bipartisan commission and, potentially, give Republicans control of political mapmaking despite being in legislative super-minorities — doesn’t apply to the congressional maps.
That buys mapmakers in Springfield more time to draw those boundaries. And they might need it, considering the Census Bureau has delayed delivering final population data to the states until late September.
That opens a narrow window in the late summer or fall to finalize the state’s congressional maps. Candidates in Illinois have until Nov. 29 to file nominating petitions with the State Board of Elections to appear on the March 15, 2022, primary ballot.
The loss of a congressional seat in Illinois leaves several downstate Republicans in vulnerable political positions, including U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis and U.S. Rep. Mary Miller.
Davis, of Taylorville, has been a perennial Democratic target, and Miller, of Oakland, drew fire for public comments she made at a Washington rally the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection, invoking Hitler in an approving manner. She later apologized for the comment.
“I urge the Democrats to keep their word on supporting independent redistricting, particularly Gov. Pritzker, who pledged to veto any partisan-drawn map,” Davis said in a statement. “The politicians in charge should not be using the census to pick their own voters and protect their own power.”
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, of Channahon, who has generated a national following for his clashes with former President Donald Trump, also could be at risk of being drawn out of his congressional district.
If Pritzker acquiesced to a scenario like that, he could be inviting a challenge for himself in 2022.
Both Kinzinger and Davis have been mentioned in political circles as viable GOP opponents to Pritzker next year should the governor seek re-election.
The results of the 2020 census were delayed for months due to the pandemic and the Trump administration’s interference in the count. According to federal law, state population numbers were to be released in December 2020.
Some experts have said the pandemic, natural disasters throughout the U.S., legal battles over the timeline, dropped quality control measures, tech troubles with a new enumeration app, and the politicization of the census by the Trump administration could result in a less-than-accurate headcount.
Robert Santos, one of the country’s leading statisticians who has been tapped by the Biden administration to be the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau, told WBEZ last October that the 2020 count could “be perhaps the worst census ever.” While no census is perfect, he said, last year’s count will likely yield undercounts in places like Chicago, which have large populations of hard-to-count communities, including immigrants and residents of color.
Census bureau officials have said they have not found evidence in the data suggesting that the count is not fit for use. The bureau is releasing quality metrics for national and state numbers, a move that some experts say is not enough, since the quality of the data varies at the neighborhood level.