Redistricting goes public at hearing

By Darryl Holliday

Residents and minority communities are expressing concern regarding the coming remapping of state and city borders, despite attempts at fairer redistricting on the part of legislators.

The first of a batch of hearings planned for the state took place on March 28 at the Michael A. Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle St., in which nearly 40 residents joined a crowd of more than 100 to testify on the past, present and future of redistricting in the city.

“Redistricting will critically affect people’s day-to-day lives because[it]determines who can vote, who can run for office and who can win in any given district,” said Ami Gandhi, legal director for the Asian-American Institute, 4753 N. Broadway. “But historically in Illinois, minority votes have been diluted by unfair and illegal practices, including cracking and packing.”

“Packing” happens when a group—typically minority—is grouped into one district to confine its voting power to one area. “Cracking” involves breaking a group up among various district with a similar result.

Concerns from minority communities were prominent during the hearing, notably from Chinatown residents. The Chinese-American gateway neighborhood has urged legislators to adopt an alternative strategy to remapping its area for the past three decades.

Gandhi and other residents said Chinatown is a victim of fracturing, which occurs when a grouping of people with common interests and demographics is weakened through district partitions. The area is split between four state house districts, three senate districts, three congressional districts and four wards.

Groups in similar positions, such as residents of Little Village, argue this causes people with common interests to be split between various representatives who do not necessarily represent them as a unified community.

Since the last redistricting cycle in 2000, the Chinatown population has increased dramatically, according to Theresa Mah, policy consultant at the Coalition for a Better Chinese Community, a group formed in order to keep Chicago’s Chinese community in a single district.

“We’ve been chomping at the bit to have this opportunity again after 10 long years,” Mah said.

Being combined into one district would increase the voting power of the more than 31,000 Chinatown area residents, possibly allowing them to elect a representative of their choice. According to the CBCC, the proposed Greater Chinatown Community Area would by defined by the Chicago River on the north, Kedzie Avenue to the west, roughly Pershing Road to the south and Indiana Avenue on the east.

Chinatown community advocates testifying at the hearing argued the prominent demographic and institutional anchors in the area—including the many businesses and cultural centers—serve to tie the community together and justify the need for a single district.

“Because we’re split up in so many districts, it’s hard for our legislators to be responsible to the needs in our community,” said David Wu, executive director of the Pui Tak Center, a church-based community center in Chinatown. He also noted that the large number of U.S. born and immigrant residents find it difficult to become more involved participants in political processes.

As legislators continue to redraw Illinois’ boundaries in the coming months, they will have to take into account the many city regions that claim to be, or in fact, are unduly impacted by unfair results of the last redistricting cycle.

The Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, sponsored by State Sen. Kwame Raoul and signed into law on March 7, “provides that legislative and representative districts shall be drawn to create crossover, coalition or influence districts.” Along with an unprecedented increase in resident procedural involvement, the legislation will attempt to protect minority voting rights.

The Redistricting Committee, chaired by Raoul, hopes to hold approximately 10 to 15 hearings across the state before the map can be approved on June 30, according to Ronald Holmes, spokesman for the Redistricting Committee.

“As far as we’re concerned the [Chicago] hearing was a huge success,” Holmes said. “Sen. Raoul, in his opening statement, said this has been the most open redistricting process so far, and the hearing on [March 28] definitely reinforced that.”

However, with less than three months before the new lines are submitted, residents will have to stay on guard to attain a map in their best interest. Noting what he called a need for a “dramatic overhaul” of the redistricting process, Sen. Dale Righter also issued a warning to the crowd gathered at the hearing.

“Keep in mind two things after this hearing is over: One is you should insist on having just as many, if not more, substantive hearings on the map that actually comes out … and two, you should insist on knowing exactly, specifically, what criteria were used in drawing that map we will see later,” he said.