This editorial appeared in the Jan. 27, 2018, edition of the Belleville News-Democrat:

Illinois has been losing population, and most projections show the state losing a U.S. representative after the 2020 U.S. census.

But a new projection shows that we are "dangerously close" to losing two seats in the U.S. House.

"(Illinois is) within that magic five points of potentially being on the odd side of the line," said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services. "Illinois is between 100,000 to 192,000 people away from losing that second seat."

Election Data Services ran three projections using different methodologies. The one showing two seats vanishing assumes Illinois loses about the same number of people lost in a census estimate released last month. That count showed a loss of 33,700, putting us at about 12.77 million residents.

There are 435 House seats, and those census counts every decade are intended to ensure our populace is evenly represented. If Colorado gains population and Illinois loses population, representation shifts to the growth.

Illinois had 25 representatives in 1950. It could have 16 by the 2022 election.

Losing two seats would obviously be a loss of clout, but the impacts in Southern Illinois could be more pronounced. Losing districts would mean a new congressional district map with bigger areas per representative — 12 of our 18 congressional districts are now clustered around Chicago. Illinois had 16 Republican and nine Democratic representatives in 1950, but now there are seven GOP and 11 Dems.

Zoom in on the Chicago area maps to see the perfect illustration of gerrymandering, especially the Pac-Man-shaped Fourth Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez. State lawmakers draw those maps, so who do you think wins and loses in Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's world?

Right.

If you assume the state legislature remains Democratic, then a Republican governor means each party will likely take a loss, said Ken Moffett, an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. But if there's a Democrat in the governor's mansion, then he said central and Southern Illinois will take a much greater hit.

There is hope on the horizon.

First, Illinois residents are upset by the practice, with 72 percent supporting an independent map commission in a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll.

Also, the issue is on our state's political radar, with most of our eight gubernatorial candidates responding to a Change Illinois survey on the issue. Disappointingly, neither our Republican incumbent nor his challenger responded.

And judges have been losing patience with the party in power drawing maps that let politicians pick voters rather than the other way around, as former President Obama lamented. The U.S. Supreme Court as far back as 1986 saw Illinois' partisan political maps as unconstitutional, but failed to come up with the right yardstick to measure a fair map.

State high courts, most recently Pennsylvania, have been ruling against overtly partisan congressional district maps. And the U.S. Supreme Court again is taking up the issue, with a Wisconsin case already before them and a Maryland case expected to be heard.

So maybe, just maybe, by 2022 we lose two congressmen but gain a fairer mapping system if the adults in black robes put the capitol's children in check. Holding breath ... starting ... now.

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