Draw It Yourself: What would a fair Illinois Map Look Like?

(Welcome to Robert Wheel's Draw a District series. For previous maps in Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina, check out Wheel's archive here.)

“But what about Illinois?”  This is the Republican refrain when Democrats point out that gerrymanders in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and like ten other states have cost them seats in the House of Representatives.  And it’s true, Illinois was intended as a Democratic gerrymander.  This ain’t exactly the pride and joy of Illinois:

But a funny thing has happened in the past 6 years — the map has led to a ton of competitive races.  Since 2012, the 10th District has flipped back and forth between the parties and Democrats lost the 12th.

This year, there are 4 GOP-held seats in Illinois that are being targeted by national Democrats, while there’s also a Democrat representing a Trump district.  In short, while this was a Democratic gerrymander, it has led to plenty of competitive races over the intervening decade.  Compare that to the five states listed above, which didn’t see a single seat change partisan hands in 2014 or 2016 and in large part feature far less prominently in Democrats’ plans to retake the House.  

And if you put a fair map in place in Illinois….I’m not sure things would look all that much different.  Before we draw such a map let’s look back at our principles.

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  • Equal populations. The most obvious legal requirement, each district is within 7 people of the ideal. The districts all need to be within 1 of ideal in real life, but the software that I use to draw districts (the invaluable Dave’s Redistricting App, which allows citizens to perform tasks legislators normally hoard to themselves) isn’t powerful enough to split precincts.  But I got pretty danged close!
  • Obey the VRA.  You can drawn 3 districts in Cook County where 49% of the voting age population is African-American.  The real issue is what you do for the Latino community.  Chicago’s Latino community is noncontiguous, living on both the North and South sides of the city (and adjacent suburbs).  For the past 3 decades line-drawers have linked them into one of America’s most hideous districts but one that nevertheless may be mandated by the VRA.  However, in 2011 they could’ve drawn one based entirely on the South Side where 59% of the voting age population was Latino and another on the North Side where 45% was.  However, not all adult Latinos are eligible to vote because they aren’t citizens, so it’s a dicey proposition.  Do you guarantee Latinos one seat or give them a very good shot at two (both seats are heavily Democratic)?  This map elects to give them two very good shots, but you can defend giving them one such seat.
  • Keep communities of interest together. Keep cities with cities, suburbs with suburbs, rural with rural and the like. Owing to VRA restrictions it’s had to draw any one district entirely within the city of Chicago, but this map otherwise tries to keep such communities together
  • Minimize breaking political boundaries. You should be familiar with the County Breaks measure by now.  This map puts seven seats entirely within Cook County and another entirely within DuPage.  And Lake and Will Counties are both only a few thousand people shy of supporting their own seat so they only require minor nibbles of outermost Cook to get there.


OK, guided by such principles, here’s what that map looks like

Chicago Inset

Anyway, for the methodology, as I noted above Districts 1, 2, 3, 7 and 4 were all drawn with VRA considerations in mind.  That leaves the 5th to take in the rest of Chicago and its closest in suburbs.  The 9th takes in much of Cook County’s northern panhandle.  The 10th and 11th both take in all of adjacent suburban counties but need small bits of Cook’s most sparsely populated suburbs (Barrington, Lemont and Palos) to get to the right population.  And the 6th fits entirely in the eastern ⅔ of DuPage County.  That leaves the 8th to take in the rest of Cook, the rest of Dupage and the innermost portion of Kane County, which you may know as home to Stan Mikita’s Donuts.  

The 14th takes in the rest of Kane and all of exurban McHenry and Kendall Counties, as well as slices of DeKalb and Grundy.  Then the 17th takes in the Quad Cities and Rockford as well as the westernmost edge of DeKalb in the northwest part of the state.  The 13th takes in a triangle of urban areas midstate: Peoria, Springfield and Bloomington (the Paris of Central Illinois, or at least that’s what State Farm would have you believe).  And the 12th takes in the St. Louis suburbs in Illinois, which aren’t big enough to support a congressional district on its own so it snakes down the Mississippi to swipe Carbondale and Marion.  In the alternative, I could have it reach up to Springfield, would that be better?  Anyway, the 16th takes in mid-sized cities south of Chicago, while the 15th and the 18th are the rural seats, with no county in either containing more than 70,000 people.

So, how did I do?  What would you change Illinoisians?  Should I use city boundaries instead of township ones in the Chicago suburbs?  Please say that I should stay with using township lines because that makes calculating election results a LOT easier.  Outstate, should I pair the St. Louis suburbs with Springfield instead of Carbondale/Marion?  That’d slide the 13th into Champaign.  Oh, and I know Will County is ideally sized for a congressional seat, but do its more rural areas really belong with Joliet?

Anyway, assuming these lines were implemented for the 2018 elections, here’s how it’d affect the races:

1st District (Bobby Rush and Dan Lipinski): Safe Democratic

Rush, the only person to ever beat Barack Obama in an election, would remain the representative for the 1st District.  The more interesting thing is what would happen to Lipinski under this map.  Lipinski is only in Congress because of blatant nepotism and is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House so he’s facing a spirited primary challenge this year.  His old district gets obliterated under these lines, but he would have the option of running in the newly-vacant 11th.  Of course, thanks to his dad he’s never had to run a contested election until this year, so we have no idea how good a candidate he’d be, and he’d be vulnerable to a Will County-based Democrat in the primary.

2nd District (Robin Kelly): Safe Democratic

Kelly wouldn’t have much issue running for re-election in this seat containing Chicago’s southern suburbs in Cook County.  

3rd District (No Incumbent): Safe Democratic

This is the aforementioned Latino-majority seat.  Chuy Garcia, currently running for the 4th District, lives here and has lots of institutional support that he could transfer over to a race solely on the South Side.  Notably,  the greatest threat to him in that race — Sol Flores  — would still live in the 4th.  And If Lipinski ran here, he’d get creamed by the overwhelmingly Latino primary electorate.  So I think this seat would almost certainly send a Latino Democrat to Congress

4th District (No Incumbent): Safe Democratic

As noted above, Flores would be the frontrunner to replace Luis Gutierrez in a Latino-majority seat on the North Side, though Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa could pose a threat to her from the left.  So in effect this map would replace a conservative Democrat with a left-wing Latino.  In that regard the party comes out ahead under fair lines.

5th District (Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky): Safe Democratic

Schakowksy’s home would be placed in a seat that contains most of Quigley’s turf.  Clinton would’ve won Schakowsky’s old seat by more than 20 points so she could always run there, but perhaps if she were drawn out of her seat, the 73-year-old would retire from Congress instead.

6th District (Bill Foster and Peter Roskam): Likely Democratic

See that little arm in Naperville in the southwest corner of this seat?  I added that to equalize populations between the 6th and 8th.  I promise that I had no idea it also contained Foster’s apartment, and in any event I’m sure you could draw a seat that didn’t include his pad and he’d still run for it.  Anyway, the eastern ⅔ of Dupage backed Clinton 54-40 and would be quite inhospitable to a Republican next year.  Roskam might be better off running in the nearby 11th even though he’s never represented a portion of it.  However, he could have a chance if he runs here and Foster runs in the neighboring 8th instead.  But it’s not much of a chance, he’s already down 51-41 in his current, more Republican district.

Notably, seats in the Chicago suburbs may be more Republican than the Clinton topline makes them appear because they elect plenty of downballot Republicans.  Except if 2017 showed us anything, it’s that downballot Republicans in places that vote Democratic for president are getting wiped out while Trump is president.  So I think using the Clinton numbers is a good measure for how they’ll vote in congressional races, at least for the next 3 years (heaven help us not the next 7).

7th District (Danny Davis): Safe Democratic

Another majority African-American district that would return its incumbent to Congress.  

8th District (No Incumbent): Safe Democratic

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi actually lives just outside this seat in the 9th District, but this seat contains more of his turf and he may want to defer to Jan Schakowsky.  It’s a 58-37 Clinton seat that would elect a Democrat in any event.

9th District (Raja Krishnamoorthi): Safe Democratic

So really, it all depends on what Schakowsky does.  If she runs here, Krishnamoorthi runs in the 8th and Foster runs in the 6th.  If not, Krishnamoorthi would run here (it went 59-36 Clinton) while Foster would run in the 8th.

10th District (Brad Schneider): Safe Democratic

Schneider only won 52-48 in a 62-33 Clinton seat last year so you might think he’d be endangered in a 57-37 Clinton seat.  But, as I noted above, those people aren’t electing a Republican to serve Donald Trump’s agenda.

11th District (No Incumbent): Leans Democratic

A 50-45 Clinton open seat would be hotly contested by both parties.  As noted before, Dan Lipinski could run here but he’d be a lousy candidate. And maybe Peter Roskam would make a go of it too.  But 95% of voters in the new 11th live in Will County, which elects 10 positions countywide. Democrats hold 8 of them, while the county has a Republican county clerk and treasurer.  So the race could pit two of those officials against each other.

12th District (Mike Bost and John Shimkus): Tossup

Hillary Clinton got destroyed 55-40 in the current iteration of the 12th, but the party still wins plenty of races downballot.  And unlike ballot splitters in the north end of the state, Republicans here don’t have Donald Trump to run against.  So Democrats feel good about DA Brendan Kelly’s campaign here in spite of the wipeout at the top of the ticket (also Bost is a hothead who’s only been able to win as a bullwark against a Democratic president).  Making the district a 52-42 Trump seat instead would only make them feel better.

Oh, and while John Shimkus’s home would be put in the 12th he could run in the more rural 15th.  Republican elected officials love rural areas, they just hate living in them.

13th District (Adam Kinzinger and Darin LaHood): Likely Republican

Under this map, the Republican game of musical chairs is just as complex as the Democratic one.  The 18th and 15th are both safe seats while the 13th (51-42 Trump) and 15th (53-41 Trump) could both be vulnerable.  John Shimkus represents most of the new 15th but he’s put in the 12th with Mike Bost, while the 13th’s Rodney Davis is put in the 15th.  And the 16th and 18th’s Kinzinger and LaHood are put in the 13th.  Got all that?

Anyway, I assume everyone would run for their old seats, regardless of where they currently live.  In that case, Davis would still be a beneficiary under this map: he currently represents a 49-44 Trump seat so a 51-42 Trump one would be an improvement.  Two of the Democrats running against him — Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and David Gill — would still live in the 13th, but they’d face steeper climbs.

14th District (Randy Hultgren): Leans Republican

While the 14th gets cleaner lines under this map the presidential topline barely changes: it goes from a 3.9% Trump win to a 3.6% one.  So this would be minor good news for Hultgren’s three potential opponents: Lauren Underwood, Matt Brolley and Victor Swanson.  Well, Underwood would get drawn out of the district, but she just moved back to the Chicago suburbs from Washington, DC anyway.  The district is currently a Likely Republican hold, and moving it .28% to the left won’t change that.

15th District (Rodney Davis): Safe Republican

Again, I think the most likely outcome is for Davis to defer to the senior and more conservative John Shimkus, but if not, we could get a Republican primary bloodbath.  Always a positive.

16th District (No incumbent): Safe Republican

Moving heavily Democratic Champaign out of the 13th means that seat gets more Republican, but it’s at the expense of the 16th, which goes from 56-38 Trump to 53-41 Trump.  That’s still plenty of cushion for even a bad year and Kinzinger is telegenic with a moderate reputation.  Still, Navy vet Jonathan Ebel, currently running in the 13th, could make a race out of this.  But it’d be a safe Republican seat in most instances.

17th District (Cheri Bustos): Likely Democratic

Bustos is a bit of a loser under this map because she’d go from a seat that Trump won by 0.7% to one he won by 4.8%. If Hillary Clinton had won she’d be a marked woman, but with Trump in the White House it’s hard to imagine blue collar Democrats who voted for him and Bustos deciding that she’s the one who betrayed them.  The GOP trend can’t be ignored, but similar seats across the country are rated Likely Democratic too.

18th District (No Incumbent): Safe Republican

Again, Republicans love rural areas as long as they don’t have to live in them.  The 15th and 18th are both around 16,000 square miles: together they’re almost as big as neighboring Indiana and comprise 57% of Illinois’ area despite being home to only 1/9 of its population.  They deserve their own representatives.

So, how does the map affect Democrats in the age of Trump?  Not by much.  They’d drum out a conservative Democrat (Dan Lipinski) for a liberal one (Chuy Garcia).  The 6th and 11th would flip places: one would be a pretty easy Democratic hold while the other would be a swing seat that leans Democratic.  The 14th would barely change.  The 17th should be an easy hold unless Trump recovers somehow.  It’ll be easier to win back the 12th but harder to win back the 13th, though a wave could also put the 16th on the board.  In sum, a fair map would have a minimal net effect on the delegation’s partisan composition.  Though that’s only a fair map as I would draw it.  Illinoisians, what would you do differently?

(Let us know what you’d change on our Facebook page or via Twitter @50StatesofBlue!)