State Lawmakers Get Ready to Redraw the Lines
Illinois representatives will host public hearing for redistricting Tuesday at South Suburban College.
Another decade has passed since the last U.S. Census in 2000, and in that time Illinois' population of 12.8 million people has been anything but stagnant.
Although the state population grew by only 4 percent, counties like Kane and Will expanded by roughly 22 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Cook County dropped 3.4 percent from roughly 5.4 million people in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2011.
Whether it was the recession, lower taxes or better gas prices that had Illinois residents on the move, one thing remains the same. It's time, once again, for redistricting.
Boundaries for 118 state legislative districts, 69 senate districts and 19 congressional districts across the state have to be redrawn in response to 2011 census results. And all this month, state lawmakers are holding hearings for the public to voice their concerns.
State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) and State Rep. Anthony Deluca (D-Chicago Heights) will conduct a public hearing for the Illinois House's Redistricting Committee in the Kindig Performing Arts Center at South Suburban College in South Holland on Tuesday.
Both state reps invited the Southwest Conference of Mayors, members of local chambers of commerce and other civic groups throughout the Southland.
“We're looking for community input to know how the general public would like a particular map to look," Burke said. "It's an information gathering process.”
The newly elected representative from the 36th District added that this is her first year involved in the redistricting process, so “it's a learning experience for me, too.”
State legislators must hold at least four public hearings statewide before voting lines are redrawn, approved by a committee and sent to the Illinois secretary of state no later than Oct. 5.
There are 12 more public hearings scheduled for the month of April.
According to the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, each district must have a relatively equal population of voters based on periodic census figures.
“The population of Illinois increased a little bit so every representative district needs to have about 108,000 people in it, which is up a couple thousand since [the 2000 U.S. Census],” Burke said.
In two acts, Illinois takes stance for district minority groups
Last month Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Voting Rights Act and Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act into law.
Both, supporters argue, are landmarks in the voting process, because they enable greater opportunity for transparency and public voice as maps are redrawn.
“The voting rights act is written to provide guidance to states that allow groups to influence the outcome of elections,” said Whitney Woodward, policy associate at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Such groups – like the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Asian American Institute – may now find it easier to support candidates of the same ethnicity under statutes of the Voting Rights Act, which include:
Crossover districts: Under the new act, minorities in one district may persuade a majority of the same race or language in another district to “cross over to support the minority's preferred candidate.”
Coalition districts: Districts with more than one group of minorities may work in coalition to form a “majority to elect their preferred candidates
Influence districts: Districts where a small community of minorities may influence an election “and elect a candidate who will be responsive to [their] interests and concerns,” even though they aren't large enough to elect a candidate of their choice.
What should you know before heading to a public hearing?
“The redistricting process is a necessary thing,” Woodward said “but also an opportunity to draw districts that reflect community interest...so that they have a representative to go to, so they know who their voice is in Washington, D.C., and Springfield.”
Once the process is complete, the ideal map should represent “one person, one vote,” she added, even though its a difficult thing to come by.
Gerrymandering, for example, or the redrawing of district maps to suit the interests of politicians and not voters, is a tactic legislators continue to use today. Even more controversial is the use of stacking, cracking and packing to disenfranchise minority voters in one or more districts.
“I urged the Illinois General Assembly in addition to holding these maps, to hold hearings after they've drawn a map to allow the public to look....and basically play editor of the maps,” Woodward said.
In reality, redistricting can be painstaking for people to understand, Woodward added, and maps look like “modern abstract art.” But it's essential that the public is involved every step of the way.
The Illinois Redistricting Hearing for the south suburbs begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, in the Kindig Performing Arts Center at South Suburban College, 15800 St. State St., South Holland. For more information on the hearing or to join the list of those who wish to give testimony, please contact 217-782-4040.