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Redistricting controversial at local level as rural vs. urban rivalries surface

BLOOMINGTON (HOI) - Key decisions are expected to be made as soon as Thursday night on redistricting, a once-in-a-decade process potentially altering the McLean County Board's political makeup for years to come.

The county board's subcommittee on rules meets Thursday at 5:45 p.m. to consider vastly different proposals, although the board would continue to have 20 elected members.

Political polarization evident nationwide is making local redistricting more contentious. Plus, redistricting decision-makers don't have census information yet because the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the process of receiving up-to-date population data.

All nine Democrats on the board signed a petition submitted Wednesday for the full county board to meet in a special session. The meeting will be held next Tuesday if the rules panel recommends what Democrats think is a less-favorable outcome for urban areas of Bloomington-Normal.

That plan, favored by the McLean County Farm Bureau, would shrink the number of districts in half to only five. Each district would have four elected representatives. Currently, each of the ten districts are represented by two county board members. Republicans hold a 11-9 majority on the board.

Democrats noted rural communities make up 23% of the county's population, but they have 30% representation on the board.

Board member Elizabeth Johnston, speaking at a public hearing on Monday, said reducing the number of districts would require merging sections of Bloomington-Normal with unincorporated areas.

"I understand that many of those advocating a reduced district plan believe that doing so would preserve, even increase, the rural voice on the board," said Johnston.

That's "a clear indication that they believe that Bloomington Normal residents should not have as much say in how their own tax dollars are spent," said Johnston, who's a District 5 representative covering parts of Normal.

Johnston initially recommended expanding the number of districts to 20, with one county board member representing each district, a change requiring a voter referendum.

Johnston and other Democrats now favor keeping the status quo until latest census information is available.

"As it stands, the 2011 maps have produced the most diverse board in the county’s history, with equal male/female representation, 2 representatives elected as college students, a partisan split that mirrors the consistent voter turnout, and our first Asian American board member," said Johnston.

"While creating smaller districts would give opportunities for even greater diversity, holding the current district set up would prove far superior than an effort to dilute those voices," Johnston added.

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Howard Packowitz

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