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UPDATE: Champaign County Board approves a new district map — again.

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UPDATE: The Champaign County Board approved a revised district map Thursday night. County board members voted along party lines to approve a map submitted by the board’s Democratic majority. It uses newly released Census data to revise a map approved last May.

Republican Jim Goss criticized Democrats for calling their proposal an “equity” map — and blamed them for problems that ranged from the former county nursing home to the current county jail.

“Accept this map”, Goss said sarcastically, “because it’s not about equity, it’s about power and control. It is so these same Democrats can complete their mission to trash this once proud county.”

Republicans say the new map gives Democrats an unfair advantage, by diluting the power of rural voters, who tend to vote for Republicans. They preferred a rival map proposed by County Executive Darlene Kloeppel, also a Democrat.

County Board Chair Kyle Patterson pushed back against charges that the map is unfair to rural areas. He said the map simply reflects the fact that Champaign County’s growth is in its urban areas.

“Champaign, we know how large the growth was,” said Patterson. “You think the districts are going to stay shaped the same?”

The city of Champaign’s population grew from 81,055 in 2010 to 88,302 in 2020, according to US Census data. 

Patterson angrily denied Republican Jim Goss’s suggestion that he may have worked on the new map during his job with the Cunningham Township supervisor’s office. 

Original article: URBANA – The Champaign County Board approved new district boundaries last May. Now that census figures are available, they’re getting ready to do it again at their meeting coming up on Thursday, October 21. Once again, the debate is dividing the board along party and rural/urban lines.

The map passed in May was approved on a party-line vote with the support of county board Democrats, who then overrode a veto from County Executive Darlene Kloeppel, who had proposed her own map. Kloeppel says the map that passed had too much variance among the county’s eleven districts.

Both the county board Democrats’ map and the map supported by Kloeppel, also a Democrat, were drawn up using population estimates, since redistricting data from the 2020 Census was not yet available.

But the census redistricting data was finally released over the summer. And both county board Democrats and Kloeppel used the census data in creating revised district map proposals that aim to reduce the variance between districts.

Kloeppel’s map was drawn up with the assistance of a Redistricting Advisory Group. But County Board Chair Kyle Patterson says his proposed map is more balanced than Kloeppel’s. 

“Her map’s variance is actually over 100 time larger than ours is,” said Patterson. “I mean, that’s one of the most important principles of one person, one vote, having districts that are similar in size.”

But while the new districts may be more even in population, they can differ greatly in population.  That was an issue as Champaign County Board members discussed the rival maps at their October 12 Committee of the Whole meeting.

At issue was a particularly large rural district proposed by county board Democrats for the southern part of the county. Kloeppel’s new proposal reduces the territory size of the district, which has been labeled District Three.

“The District Three was huge,” said Kloeppel, when she first released her proposal in September. “It was covering almost half of the county on the south side. And that’s a huge area to cover. And so, we just tried to get it a little bit more compact, which is also one of the criteria for the maps — to try to get them as compact as possible.”

But Chair Patterson’s counterproposal would enlarge District Three again, resulting in a single county board district covering 388 square miles.

At last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Republican county board member Jim McGuire accused Democrats of creating the big rural district to enable other rural — and mostly Republican — areas to be pushed into more urban districts, where their political power would be diluted.

“They’re being compressed into the cities to give the Democrats a greater number of voters, by percentage, in each of the districts, so you can control more county board districts,” said McGuire. “That’s an inequity.”

At a public hearing held just before the October 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, Peggy Prichard was the only speaker. As a Republican, she said she thought Kloeppel’s proposal was more fair overall.

“I’m here to support my fellow GOP,” said Prichard. “I think it’s important that, in the whole state and the whole country, that we’re honest with ourselves, and that we present maps that are true to the census numbers.”

An ordinance approving a new district map is on the agenda for the October 21st Champaign County Board meeting, which starts at 6:30 PM at the Brookens Administrative Center in Urbana.  A space is left map for the exact map proposal to be chosen: Equity Map Census 3, which is Executive Kloeppel’s proposal; Equity Map Census 4, proposed by county board Democrats; or the Equity Map, which the county board approved last May.

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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