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Census population figures cost Illinois a congressional seat

It’s become a decennial tradition in the state, which has lost 10 U.S. House seats in the last nine censuses, leaving it at 17.
Illinois will lose one Congressional seat for the decade. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
Illinois will lose one Congressional seat for the decade. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.(U.S. Census Bureau)
Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 2:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois will lose a seat in Congress because of stagnating population, continuing a long slide that has cost it political influence nationally, according to the 2020 Census results announced Monday.

It’s become a decennial tradition in the state, which has lost 10 U.S. House seats in the last nine censuses, leaving it at 17.

The results of the census also likely spell a loss of federal funding while at the same time strengthening Democrats’ political grip on the state.

“Most people who build a statistical model on how much federal money does a state get will find that more seats means more money,” Brian Gaines, political scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said.

In the immediate future, Illinois can get a financial boost because of its current influence, Glenn Poshard said, who represented extreme southern Illinois in Congress from 1989 to 1999. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is the Senate Majority Whip. The Democrat was just elected last fall to a fifth term.

Census numbers weren’t available Monday for counties or cities such as Chicago, the nation’s third-largest. Other estimates have put the city’s population at 8.87 million, up 2.8 percent from a decade ago. But with solid Democratic control of such a tightly packed bloc of voters, few will notice change there.

With Democrats holding 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats, controlling the governor’s office and dominating the state Legislature, little else should change, Gaines said. The 14th Congressional District, running from the top to the bottom of the Chicago metropolitan area on its far western edge, will likely be redrawn to boost Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Democrat who narrowly won a second term last fall by just over 1 percentage point over Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

Democrats are likely take another run at the 13th District in central Illinois, where Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis has won five straight elections in a district that already leans Democratic.

“We weren’t really expecting the partisan balance to shift very much,” Gaines said. “It’s already tilted in a way that slightly exaggerates how Democratic the state is.”

Fewer Electoral College votes will mean a little less influence on the national stage. But Illinois, a one-time bellwether whose voters chose the winning candidate in every presidential election from 1920 to 1996, has turned so heavily Democratic in national elections that it’s no longer competitive; the last time it was in play for the GOP was 1988.

The cosmetic change — larger districts drawn to cover more ground for each member — aren’t as immediately apparent, but eventually become evident to constituents.

Poshard recalls complaining to colleagues in the House dining room about his district’s size. He said he kept quiet after Rep. Pat Willams, then one of two House members from Montana, described a district that would stretch from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

But voters in Montana or similar expanses such as Wyoming are acquainted with House members being stretched thin across an entire state. In Illinois, where districts keep getting larger, constituents grow impatient and officeholders, who rush home after a Monday-to-Thursday congressional week, frustrated, Poshard said.

“You’ve got Friday and and part of Saturday to cover a whole district, and mine had 30 counties in it,” he said. “It’s difficult to get around and meet with the county boards and all the folks that want to talk to you.”

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