SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Our news cameras were rolling as dozens of House Democrats filed in and out of a locked door on the Capitol Complex grounds. Inside, members of House Speaker Chris Welch’s staff showed members one-by-one where the lines of their new districts could be drawn.
“Meeting with members is nothing new,” Welch’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll said in an emailed statement. “In fact, the room we’re talking to members in is actually the same we met in 10 years ago. This is and will remain a transparent process.”
“It’s just preliminary drafts for each district,” Rep. Nick Smith (D-Chicago) said on his way into the room.
Several other state representatives avoided questions about the meetings or gave evasive answers. Others who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that they were reviewing the early drafts of the House district maps. Some members felt there weren’t many recognizable changes, but pointed out that the lines could still change several times before they’re finalized.
Members of the public have yet to see the data or the district lines. The full U.S. Census data isn’t expected to be released until later this fall after the constitutional deadline for the legislature to send a map to the governor’s desk for approval.
“Soon, we will file the map and the public will be given a chance to weigh in, including at additional public hearings,” Driscoll said. “We’ve conducted roughly 30 public hearings listening to Illinoisans from all corners of the state about what their communities look like to them.”
“We have a map that people can count on, that’s transparent, that reflects the conversations people have been having across the state,” Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Highwood) said moments after leaving the closed room.
Transparency is one of the recurring themes at each of the public redistricting hearings.
“The most important thing to us is that the process is transparent,” Al Hooks with the NAACP said at a meeting in East St. Louis last month.
Republicans have highlighted the low turnout at the public proceedings and suggested that Democrats should wait until the full census data is available before drawing the maps.
“Unfortunately, there was very little notice,” state senator Steve McClure (R-Springfield) said at a Senate redistricting committee hearing in Peoria in March.
“30 counties are represented in this room,” he said at the time. “Very few people are actually here. And it’s kind of disappointing that this is the process when we’ve got our voters and our constituents who don’t even have the information to even give a realistic interpretation of it, or to present a map, which is what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be collecting maps from our constituents. Unfortunately, we don’t even have the data to do that.”
The Speaker’s office gave assurances that the public will have ample time to review the proposed legislative maps and give feedback before the final lines are drawn.
“Our bipartisan Redistricting Committee has worked tirelessly to ensure all voices are heard,” Driscoll said. “We’ll continue to listen, gather, and analyze input from the public and we strongly encourage participation from everyone.”