Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Quinn signs redistricting changes

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a measure geared at preserving the power of geographic pockets of minority populations in the upcoming redistricting process.

The law will require those who draw new legislative districts — a move required every 10 years after new U.S. Census data comes out — to consider the presence of racial or language minority populations and so-called communities of interest, which are often neighborhoods. Mapmakers would be charged with attempting to avoid diluting the power of those groups as a voting bloc by not splitting them into several districts.

Other considerations, such as the requirements for districts to be compact, equal in number and contiguous, would take priority over preserving so-called crossover, coalition or influence districts. A written statement from the office of Gov. Pat Quinn defines those districts: “A crossover district is one in which a racial or language minority group makes up less than a majority of the voting age population but is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with some support from larger groups. A coalition district is one where several racial or language minority groups may join together to elect a candidate of their choice. An influence district is one where a racial or language minority can influence the outcome of an election, even if its preferred candidate cannot be elected.”

An example of a potential influence population is Chicago’s Chinatown. Advocates for the area have tried to raise awareness about the dissection of their community under the current map. They say that splitting their neighborhood between several districts has taken away political power from the Chinese-American community in the city. The voting population of Chinatown may not be large enough to elect a representative to the Illinois House. However, if the community were more concentrated in one district, it may be able to wield political power as a potential voting bloc.

“Today is a big day for all immigrant communities. But we are still inches from the goal line. We have the law, but we haven’t seen the map yet. … So much is at stake. It’s no longer just the aspiration and quest of Chinatown. [Protecting the power of minority populations] is the aspiration and quest of us all,” C.W. Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said at a Chicago news conference.

The measure also calls for four hearings on redistricting throughout the state. Barbara Flynn Currie, House sponsor of Senate Bill 3976, said the number is a “floor” for the number of hearings not a “ceiling.” Republicans argue that more hearings should have been built into the legislation. They also say that some hearings should be required after the new map is drawn before legislators vote on it, so the public can have input on any potential map of legislative districts. “The legislation the governor signed today lacks the real transparency that we need in this important process of redistricting. We need to demand public hearings after the new legislative map is drawn — so that the public can have an opportunity to comment on the map—before it is voted on in the next few months. We encourage the governor to continue to push for a competitive map and promise to veto a map that is not competitive and fails to provide a full opportunity for minorities to elect the candidates of their choice in majority-minority districts," Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican, said in a written statement.

For a more in-dept look at the bill and issues surrounding the upcoming redistricting process see the new March Illinois Issues, page 3.

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