Ill-exit? Movement to create a new state in southern Illinois gains momentum

Disillusioned with the Chicago area, several counties already have voted in non-binding resolutions to leave Illinois and form a new state.

Updated: November 15, 2022 - 6:01am

A growing list of Illinois counties disenfranchised with the goings-on in Cook County have voted in nonbinding resolutions to leave Illinois and form a new state.

Residents in three more counties – Brown, Hardin and a portion of Madison County – voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution allowing their county board to explore the possibility of leaving the state, bringing the total to 27. In all three counties, close to 75% of residents were in favor of the idea.

The driving force behind the referendums was to allow the county board of each area to coordinate with other county boards to explore the possibility of leaving Illinois because of the influence that Chicago and Cook County have on the state’s political decisions.

In Brown County, the ballot question read, “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.”

“We don’t use the word secession because that’s not what this is, it’s legally something different,” said G.H. Merritt, chair of the nonpartisan organization New Illinois. “We are trying to form a new state, and we’re not trying to kick Chicago out of Illinois, we’re trying to kick ourselves out of Illinois.”

Only Congress has the power to create new states, but there has never been a formal agreement on how the process should take place.

Merritt said a driving force behind the expanding movement is that many southern Illinoisans want to be heard regarding issues that affect the state as a whole.

“You have this movement in Illinois, you have it in California, you have it in New York, you have it in Colorado, it's because the people in the rural areas don’t have a meaningful voice in the government,” Merritt said.

She said a resolution is expected to be filed in January to begin the process.

This is not the first time frustrated downstate Illinoisans have lobbied to split from the state. In the 1970s, residents of western Illinois declared themselves “Forgottonia” as a protest against the government’s failure to improve the transportation infrastructure.