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Census delays throw wrench into Illinois redistricting process

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By Lily Bohlke

Illinois has one of the earliest deadlines for redistricting, the process of redrawing lines for voting districts, which happens after the census every ten years.

But because of pandemic delays, block-by-block 2020 Census data will not be available until the fall.

Democratic legislators have opted not to follow states like California and Michigan in asking the courts to move the redistricting deadline back from June 30, but instead plan to use data from the 2010 Census along with updates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, said having accurate and full numbers from the census is critical to ensuring full representation.

“I saw dedicated organizers across Illinois convince undocumented families to step out of the shadows, to be counted as vital parts of their neighborhoods,” Young recalled. “Those are the people I feel, have been dishonored by the path that the Illinois General Assembly has now chosen.”

Before leaving office, the Trump administration sought to exclude undocumented people from the count for redistricting.

Young pointed out traditionally hard-to-count communities, also including people who live on reservations or in rural areas and those with language barriers, will be the most underrepresented if lawmakers don’t wait for more complete data.

Voting representation is not the only critical function of census data. It is also used to allocate federal dollars for hospitals, schools, road repairs, emergency response services and more.

Young argued funding is critical, especially for needy families.

“The census, for somebody in rural Illinois, might mean child health care, it might mean food on the table, it might mean crime victim assistance, it might mean paved roads; it might mean a lot of things,” Young outlined.

He pointed out between 2018 and 2020, Illinois allocated tens of millions of dollars for census outreach, education and mobilization.

He added having trusted messengers embedded in communities is critical to ensure an accurate count.

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