JERSEY COUNTY, Ill. (KMOV.com) -- Could neighboring Illinois counties eventually become part of Missouri? A Jersey County board member has begun exploring the question, asking his colleagues to discuss the concept and consider a possible referendum on the 2022 ballot.
Eric Ivers, who was born and raised in Illinois, said Tuesday the state has always had a political and socioeconomic divide, and many downstate counties are far more aligned with neighboring Missouri.
"The entire time I’ve lived in Illinois and around Illinois, people complained about basically being held hostage by the Chicago area," he said. "Taxes, abortion, gun control. The rest of the state is on one side, Chicago is on the other side."
To illustrate Ivers's point, in the 2020 election only 13 counties out of 102 in Illinois voted Democrat. Those counties (which include the state's most populous regions) accounted for 3.4 million votes, which was 57.5% of the total.
"Illinois is a red state geographically, just not by population," he said.
To be clear, Ivers is not suggesting secession from Illinois and the formation of a new state. Such an event hasn't occurred since Virginia and West Virginia split during the Civil War. Instead, he's seeking to find out if the residents of his county would support exploring a move to join Missouri.
"To put something on the ballot that would allow the population to decide if they want to do that," he said.
Ivers believes several surrounding counties such as Pike, Calhoun, and Greene could all potentially share similar sentiments, and if geographical boundaries begin to shift to reflect political ones, the numbers could grow.
"My guess is there would be pretty solid support for this in a much larger area than just that set of counties," he said.
Downstate Illinois is far from the first region to explore such an action. In May, five eastern Oregon counties voted in support of joining Idaho, albeit in nonbinding elections. The counties, which are comprised of a predominantly conservative voter base, cited frustration with state legislation being driven by Oregon's much more liberal population centers.
A Roswell, New Mexico lawmaker filed a proposal this year to allow counties to secede or join another state for similar reasons, and the Buckhead cityhood movement in Georgia has drawn national attention.
Ivers believes the discussion is worth having for his region, as the population fits more naturally into neighboring states, where the political and economic policies more accurately reflect the voting trends of southern Illinois.
"This is not just a matter of the people who are Republican voters wanting to leave. If you look at the statistics, you’ll see we are actually a financial drain on the rest of the state. Being lower income and having more geography, it takes quite a bit to support us," he said. "But compared to Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky, we are about average or slightly above average. So it would be a gain for Illinois for us to leave, and it would be a gain for the states we would adhere to for us to join them."
Ivers has brought the idea to the board for consideration and has said he could create a petition to gauge the interest of the such a move within the community. If enough people sign the petition, the county board could decide to include the measure on the 2022 ballot. However, if the petition gets enough qualified signatures (somewhere north of 680) the measure could be added to the ballot without board input.