Illinois residents wanting to separate their communities from Chicago and Cook County is nothing new in the political world, but three counties took things one step further during the midterm elections, passing non-binding resolutions indicating that they want their elected officials to potentially explore seceding from the state.
These so-called “separation referendums” were on the ballot in Brown and Hardin counties, as well as a portion of Madison County.
The thrust behind the referendums was to allow the county board of each area to coordinate with other county boards to explore the possibility of seceding from Illinois due to the influence Chicago and Cook County have on the state's political decisions.
Brown County, located in western Illinois, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the non-binding ballot question, with nearly three-in-four voters approving it.
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“Shall the board of Brown County correspond with the boards of the other counties of Illinois outside of Cook County about the possibility of separating from Cook County to form a new state, and to seek admission to the union as such, subject to the approval of the people,” the question read.
With all 14 precincts reporting in Brown County, 1,444 votes were cast in favor of the question, representing 74% of the votes cast on that specific question. 441 votes were opposed to such a meeting.
Hardin County, located in southeastern Illinois, also voted on a similar measure and passed it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a population of 3,649 residents, making it the least-populated county in the state.
Finally, in northeastern Madison County, 74.74% of the vote went to the “yes” column, with 213 of 285 ballots cast in favor of meeting with other county boards.
Madison County is located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Illinois.
The three counties join a group of 24 others that have passed so-called “separation referendums” in recent elections. According to Illinois Newsroom, 23 of those counties passed the non-binding resolutions during the 2020 election, with similar language to the referendums presented to voters in Brown, Hardin and Madison counties.
According to Illinois Newsroom, those counties included Bond, Christian, Clark, Clay, Crawford, Cumberland, Edwards, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Hancock, Jefferson, Johnson, Lawrence, Marion, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne and Whiteside.
Jersey County also passed a non-binding referendum during the 2021 municipal election cycle, according to the group Red State Secession.
The measures are non-binding, but sends a message to leaders to potentially engage in discussions with other counties to discuss the possibility of attempting to form a new state.
The question of whether or not a county can secede from a state in the first place is in dispute. While advocates for secession in Illinois cite Maine’s separation from Massachusetts, which occurred in 1819 because of disagreements over land speculation and other factors, most legal experts dispute the idea that a county can secede from a state.
Matthew Simpson, a professor at the University of New Mexico, argues that because of a variety of precedents, including the 1907 Hunter v. City of Pittsburgh decision, counties cannot secede from states because their rights emanate from the state they are located in.
Still, some argue that a county can secede if a state allows them to, but it would seemingly be unlikely that Illinois would allow counties to leave.