Faultlines in in Illinois’ political geography came to the surface Monday during a state Senate Redistricting Committee hearing in Chicago Monday.

By Andrew Thomason

Faultlines in in Illinois’ political geography came to the surface Monday during a state Senate Redistricting Committee hearing in Chicago Monday.

Many minority groups voiced their worries about ignoring these fault lines during the upcoming redrawing of local, state and federal electoral boundaries in the state.

The Asian population of Illinois, which is the fastest growing minority population in the state, is particularly at risk for under-representation, several minority group advocates said.

“Redistricting has fragmented our neighborhoods repeatedly,” said Ami Gandhi, legal director for the Asian American Institute. “After the 2000 census, five Illinois senate districts were over 10 percent Asian-American, but the district lines that were redrawn in 2001 left only two Illinois senate districts to be over 10 percent Asian-American.”

The Chicago-based Asian American Institute, a nonprofit organization, says its mission is to “empower the Asian American community through advocacy, by utilizing education, research and coalition building,” according to its website.

Gandhi said that in addition to simply growing in numbers, the Asian community has become more civically engaged. For example, the number of registered voters in Chinatown has triple since 2000, according to Teresa Mah, of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community.

The 2010 census found that the Asian population in Illinois grew 39 percent. The Hispanic population, by comparison, grew 32.5 percent.

Redistricting takes place every decade in conjunction with new population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mah, Gandhi and others said they are concerned about the lack of influence Asians and other minority groups have in elections, in part due to the fact that their demographic groups have been spread out during past remapping efforts.

No Asian candidate has ever been elected to the Legislature or any statewide office.

“It’s not just necessarily by race that they are looking to put an Asian, or in our case we would be looking to put an African-American in (office),” said Melissa Williams of the NAACP. “It’s a situation where we may have a candidate that we feel strongly about, but we don’t have enough pull because there aren’t enough of us to put that candidate in.”

Groups said they intend to use census data to draw their own maps and present those during later hearings throughout the state.

While submitted maps and the testimony of the more than 20 people who testified will be available for anyone involved in the redistricting processes, there is no law that requires legislators to factor those comments and proposals into how the lines are laid out.

Most of those who testified in the packed hearing room said the only way to ensure their wants and needs are met is by having another round of hearings once a map has been drafted but before the legislature has voted on it. There is no requirement for that, though that’s not for lack of trying.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, was unsuccessful in passing such legislation last year but encouraged groups to pursue that want.

“You should insist on having just as many, if not more, substantive hearings on the map that actually comes out as a product or voted out by the General Assembly, as you have hearings before without having seen any lines,” he said.

Concern about how quickly a new map could be passed has been raised because of the current political landscape in Springfield. For the first time since the adoption of the 1970 constitution, Democrats control both chambers in the Legislature and the governor’s office.

This monopoly on power makes Republicans votes on redistricting proposals unnecessary and puts them in nearly the same position as the groups that spoke during Monday’s hearing. It could be only take a few days for a map to go from draft to legislation waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature if Democrats were united behind it.

But Redistricting Committee chairman Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he would try to make a draft map available to the public.

“It’s my intention to, as soon as there’s a rendering of a map, to post that up so people could see that so we could have hearings afterwards and so people can be informed,” Raoul said.

The next redistricting hearing is slated for April 6 in Springfield.

Related story

Hearings get under way in state redistricting (WLS-TV)

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