Clock ticking on tight timeline to redistrict county boards

Data collection for the 2020 U.S. Census is currently scheduled to end Sept. 30.  While that closes one window, it opens others, including the time period for many county governments to redistrict their governing boards and the opportunity for citizens to get involved in the process.

Counties that elect board members by district will draw new county board districts in a process called redistricting, or reapportionment.

Counties with populations of fewer than 3,000,000 people that use a township form of government must complete their redistricting plans by July 1, 2021. Counties operating under the commission form of government, in which voters elect commissioners by district, must redistrict by May 31.

The redistricting process consists of redrawing district boundary lines based on the census’ new population figures. The census will show that some districts have gained residents, while others have lost some. Redrawing the lines ensures each district has the same number of people, complying with the constitutional tenet that each voter has an equal say. Counties in which board members are elected at large don’t require redistricting.

Besides redistricting, counties can use this time as an opportunity to make other changes to the government structure, including:

  1. The number of districts.
  2. The number of members representing a district.
  3. Whether members are elected by district or at large. Currently, 76% of Illinois counties elect their representatives by district, compared with 24% at large.
  4. Number of total board members. Counties with a population less than 800,000 must consist of at least five board members, no more than 29 and no more than the size of the board on Oct. 2, 1969.  Counties with a population between 800,000 and 3,000,000 must have no more than 18 board members.

County government officials don’t have much time to make these changes and neither does anyone who wants to get involved.

As part of the process, many county boards will hold at least one public hearing and take comments from local residents. These hearings allow citizens to make their voices heard on how potential changes might impact them.

However, by law, only in those counties where the redistricting plan is developed by the chairman of the county board elected by the voters or, by a County Executive elected by the voters is there a requirement to hold a public hearing on the redistricting plan.

With a relatively short timeline, this process will likely be a priority for many county boards. Whether a public hearing is required by law, or in response to civic pressure placed on the board by county residents, be on the lookout for opportunities for public input and be ready to get involved. 

This article first appeared in the September-October edition of LINK.