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State's Attorney: 20-District County Board Plan 'Unconstitutional'

county board members at a meeting
Eric Stock
The McLean County Board Executive Committee held its last of three public hearings Monday on establishing the number of County Board districts,

McLean County would have to get voter approval to expand to 20 County Board districts this year, effectively killing a plan several Democrats and allies pushed during the county's redistricting hearings.

After more than 40 people addressed the County Board Executive Committee during three public hearings over the last two weeks, McLean County Assistant State's Attorney Christopher Spanos clarified the County Board could not change to a one-board-member-per-district plan on its own.

“Make no mistake, a 20-member single-member district plan passed by the McLean County Board would be unconstitutional,” Spanos told the committee.

Christopher Spanos
Eric Stock
McLean County Assistant State's Attorney Christopher Spanos told the County Board Executive Committee it would be unconstitutional to approve a one-board member-per district format without a referendum.

Supporters of the 20-district format argue it would better represent minority populations than the County Board does currently.

Democratic County Board member Elizabeth Johnston first proposed the 20-district plan. She said she wants a County Board map that fosters diversity and more direct representation.

“We are looking at multi-member districts and given that, I think that the current map has done a fairly adequate job of providing representation, especially right now with the board being as diverse as it is,” Johnston said. “That’s going to be where I put my energy from here on.”

The County Board is evenly split between men and women. The board has one minority member, Sharon Chung.

Johnston said the county should clarify its redistricting rules to help in the future and start the process earlier so it could consider a public referendum.

The county draws new district maps every 10 years following each census.

Others have called for cutting the number of County Board districts to five, arguing each voter should be able to elect a larger percentage of the board. Some also raised concerns that more districts would potentially reduce rural representation in county government.

John Walther who lives in east Bloomington (County Board District 7) said he prefers having two County Board members in the district so voters can decide County Board races every two years rather than every four years.“

Multiple member districts help encourage public accountability and civic participation,” Walther told the committee.

County Board Chairman John McIntyre said the County Board’s Rules Subcommittee has scheduled a virtual meeting Thursday at 5:45 p.m. to make a recommendation to the board’s Executive Committee on May 10. The Executive Committee will then make a recommendation to the full County Board for its May 13 meeting.

McIntyre announced the Executive Committee will hold public hearings on May 18 at 4:30 p.m. and May 25 at 7 p.m. to take feedback on how the county maps should be drawn.

The County Board would then vote on the proposed maps at its June meeting. The county is required to have the new maps drawn by June 30, unless the state of Illinois pushes back the deadline.

A delay in census data due to the coronavirus pandemic has complicated redistricting efforts at the local, state and federal levels this year.

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