Elected officials, witnesses trade barbs over redistricting at McHenry County hearing

‘There’s a process in place. We should abide by that process,’ state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, during a Friday redistricting hearing

A virtual McHenry County redistricting hearing Friday set the scene for some elected officials and witnesses to trade barbs over how to redraw the congressional state district maps.

Members of the Illinois State House Redistricting Committee held a hearing to give witnesses the opportunity to weigh in on the state’s redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census. This year’s map redrawing is complicated by the delayed release of Census data and that Illinois is expected to lose at least one congressional seat.

Kristina Zahorik, an Oakwood Hills trustee and the chairwoman of the McHenry County Democratic Party, urged the use of the best available data – which is provided by the American Community Survey, a demographics survey program conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Using demographics and voting rights may create districts that don’t look like the shapes we would recognize from primary school, but that doesn’t mean that they are gerrymandered or somehow unfair,” Zahorik said. “Draw the maps that represent the people you serve, which are the outcome of a fair process.”

State Reps. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, Tim Butler, R-Springfield, and Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, took issue with Zahorik’s suggestion.

“At multiple times, experts have testified the fact that ACS undercounts not only minority populations but undercounts populations from communities of under 65,000 people,” Butler said. “There is real concerns with your testimony using the best available data to go forward.”

“To say that we should be going to the ACS or some other form of data to indicate what our maps should look like is nothing more than an attempt, I believe, on behalf of the majority that is running this show to avoid the possibility of getting a 50/50 draw and losing it at the very end of the process,” Reick said. “There’s a process in place. We should abide by that process and not try to change the means by which we count people in this country or in these districts simply because it’s inconvenient to not have the Census data available at the time.”

Zahorik said she is advocating for a fair mapping process with an outcome that is representative of the community’s needs based on efforts to listen to the constituencies through the state.

“I think that you should follow the law and you should draw them based on an outcome that is representative of the district,” she said.

Butler spoke further, saying he can’t believe Zahorik is testifying during the hearing.

“I have these emails that literally you just sent within the past few days trying to get money and stop partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in Illinois,” he said. “Yes, I know districts don’t look like primary shapes, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gerrymandered, they are. They’ve been gerrymandered politically.”

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, asked those on hand for the hearing to avoid veering from the topic of the hearing.

Also attending the virtual hearing was state Rep. Suzanne Ness, D-Crystal Lake, and McHenry County Board members Kelli Wegener and Michael Vijuk.

Several provided testimony, saying they are open to moving June 30 deadline for the legislature to pass new maps but also expressed concern for proximity to the 2022 primary election.

Some blamed the administration of former President Donald Trump for delaying the release of the federal Census data.

Wegener and Ness said they would like the committee hold redistricting hearings in the evenings to help ensure that anyone who wants to attend can.

The Illinois State House Redistricting Committee has hosted more than a dozen hearings, to date. Officials said the goal is to stage 23 hearings throughout the state.

If the redistricting map isn’t redrawn, passed and signed into law by June 1, it’s on an eight-member panel with four members from each political party to make it happen, officials said. If no agreement is reached by Sept. 1, the Illinois secretary of state will have the say in naming a ninth member to the commission to break any tie.