Kane County Board unhappy with new boundary map but likely to approve it
Kane County officials are poised to vote on the new boundaries for the 24 county board seats, though an overall lack of trust in the census data being used may result in something less than unanimous approval.
A task force of county board members and nonvoting representatives of the Kane County Democratic and Republican parties spent most of 2021 tinkering with population estimates and the idea of creating a legally defensible number of districts where Hispanic residents have a fair shot at electing a Hispanic. Much of the early work hinged on the idea that Kane County was one of the few geographies in the state that saw growth during the last decade. Pre-census projections put that growth at about 20,000 new residents.
But actual census data that came out at the end of summer showed the real growth to be about 1,000 people. That sent officials back to the drawing board. Representatives from Aurora quickly went on the defensive as census numbers indicated a loss of about 18,000 people in Illinois' second-largest city. That population loss is close to the 21,522 average number of people represented by a county board district, making Aurora a target for less representation on the county board.
In the final draft map presented this week, many of the districts that existed for the last 10 to 20 years bear little resemblance to what will exist if the county board approves the new map. Board members like Mike Kenyon and Mark Davoust on the Republican side and Dale Berman and Myrna Molina on the Democratic side would represent districts with almost none of the people they currently represent.
They and the rest of the county board are up for reelection in 2022, a tight turnaround for incumbents to ingratiate themselves with voters who may be less familiar with them.
Aurora Democrat Ron Ford, the lone Black member of the board, continued to express disbelief that the census numbers are accurate. The demographics of Ford's new district is about 14% Black, far below a majority that would be expected to have a reasonable chance of electing, or reelecting, a Black candidate. However, Ford's existing district also has far more Hispanic than Black residents.
Ford said the census numbers showing the loss of 18,000 Aurora residents doesn't hold up even in a casual look at the city.
"That's a whole series of houses, just empty of blocks," Ford said. "A ghost town. There's a strong possibility these numbers are not accurate."
Kane County Republican Party Chairman Ken Shepro initially pledged to round up as many "no" votes as possible against the new map. He believes the census numbers are unreliable and said multiple attempts by Republicans to suggest various changes received no response.
However, in a subsequent interview, Shepro said he met with Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog. He is confident some of the party's suggested changes will be in a revised draft that the county board will see on Nov. 30.
Shepro said it would only take "very minor" changes, in particular to Republican Mike Kenyon's district, for the map to win his support. Like many board members, he still won't be totally satisfied with the new map. But time is running out.
"There is absolutely no time to sit around and redraw the precincts when we have to have petitions for the election done in eight weeks," Shepro said. "There are some changes I'd still like to see, which I think would be good for everybody, but I'm not going to push those if the affected board members don't care."
The proposed draft map contains eight districts where Hispanics would have a large enough majority to elect a Hispanic representative. Five of the districts are in Aurora. There are two in Elgin and one in Carpentersville. Of those eight, three of the districts are currently represented by a Hispanic board member.
Pierog said that while achieving enough Hispanic-majority districts for the map to be legally defensible, party affiliation was not a factor.
"I have no idea of how many Republicans or Democrats are in your districts," Pierog told the task force. "That number was never used. That number was never even discussed. If the districts are perceived to have been changed because of demographic changes, those have happened organically and have not been forced."
There will be two chances for the public to make comments that could still change the map. The first is at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15, at Elgin Community College's Seigle Auditorium. The second is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva.
The county board has until Dec. 30 to approve a new map. If it cannot do so, the Illinois Attorney General may take over the process and draw the map for the county.