Champaign County Bd Votes to Set Up Redistricting Commission

March 19, 2010

In an attempt to take the politics out of drawing county board district boundaries ... the Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to form a special Redistricting Commission, in which the majority of members will be citizens from the community. County officials believe the commission may be a first for Illinois.

The new commission is an attempt to get past district maps drawn to favor whichever party holds the majority on the county board. For the map to be based on 2010 Census data, the Champaign County Board will vote on a map drawn up by a commission made up of four county members --- two from each party --- and seven at-large members representing different sectors of the community, such as business, labor, farmers, students --- and political independents. Democrat Steve Beckett says the goal is to come up with district boundaries that are drawn fairly and don't favor one party over another.

"I think it uses these principles, and it tests maps", says Beckett, "and it tries to look at one that doesn't bust up villages and doesn't bust up townships, and tries to make things compact and contiguous as our statute wants us to do, and have the right population and take into account and take into account federal requirements."

Most Republicans on the county board voted for the new commission, but only a third of the county board's Democratic majority did so. Among the opponents, Urbana Democrat Tom Betz says there's simply no way that politics can be taken out of the redistricting process.

"This is a nice attempt", said Betz. "It's very good public relations. I hope it turns out to be more than good public relations. But let's not kid ourselves that politics is out of this picture, because this is going to be very political.

Betz predicted the real politics would begin when the at-large members of the Redistricting Commission are chosen. The nominations will be made by Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel, who actually voted against the measure. The county board will vote to ratify Weibel's choices.

The commission rules aim for openness, with proposed maps posted on the Internet, and subjected to public hearings. Past voting data would not be considered in drawing up district boundaries. But the Champaign County Board will still have the final say on district boundaries for the 2012 election.

Story source: AP