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Census Questions At Forefront Of Senate's Redistricting Hearing In Peoria

Dave Koehler
State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, listens to testimony during Monday night's redistricting committee meeting in Peoria.

Uncertainty over the ongoing redistricting process was a main topic at a Senate committee hearing Monday focused on West Central Illinois' needs over the next 10 years.

Only three people came to the meeting to testify. The hearing, which was held both in person at the Peoria Civic Center and over Zoom, was troubled by technical difficulties at times.

The hearing focused on the lack of available Census data. The U.S. Census Bureau says it won't have the necessary information for redistricting until the end of September.

Al Hooks of the Peoria NAACP said the process of redrawing Illinois' political boundaries needs to be as transparent and accurate as possible with the data available.

"This is 10 years worth of representation," said Hooks. "It's going to affect our dollars, and everything else. So this process is critical."

He said that amid the delay in data, any decision taken regarding redistricting would be questioned, especially after the deadline for the process.

"There's a fear that (the map) can't be changed," said Hooks. "The fear is not going to change the facts."

He supported moving ahead with the process, even as Republicans on the committee questioned him on whether the process, data, and notice of the committee were adequate for the community's needs.

"You make the best decision at the time with the best data you have in hand, and you go forward," said Hooks. "As long as you make the decision with the best data, let the questions come forth."

Republicans on the committee want two weeks notice given to the public for future hearings. They said people need to have more time to make their voices heard.

"Why are citizens and advocacy groups getting such short notice to participate?" said state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Jacksonville. "There is no need to rush these hearings."

Democratic state Sen. Dave Koehler of Peoria chaired the committee. He said he thought delaying the hearings would not be the right approach.

"It would mean a lot of people in Peoria and other communities would have less time to engage in the process," said Koehler. "We don't need the census data to hear about how the community has changed in the last decade."

Brian Elsasser, a Republican member of the Peoria County Board, said Democrats should include Republicans and take their input into account.

"It's important when everyone's involved in the process, and they have the opportunity to speak and share and when everyone is looking out for the best interests of the citizens of Peoria County," said Elsasser. "When you get done at the end of the day, you want something that you can come to the people and say, you know, we're proud of this."

He also said he is concerned about accessibility in redistricting hearings. He said many people in his area don't have access to reliable internet to take part in the process. Most of the remaining Senate redistricting meetings are set to be held virtually.

Elsasser said he wanted to see districts that are compact and contiguous.

"I think it's important to keep villages and towns and cities and townships together as much as possible," said Elsasser.

Michael Kirkton of the Livingston County Board said he doesn't want to see his community lose representation.

"We are a very rural community with very rural values, and keeping us within a district that shares those values is crucial to our representation," said Kirkton.

Under the Illinois Constitution, lawmakers are required to have a redistricting plan in place by June 30. Otherwise, the process comes under the control of a bipartisan redistricting commission which would include members of the public.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.