Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011 into law today, a bill immigrant leaders say will help ensure their communities' electoral power is not diluted during the all-important redistricting process that is starting to gear up in Springfield
Immigrant voters and leaders -- and particularly those from Chicago's Near South Side Chinese neighborhoods -- were cheered by legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law this afternoon, saying the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011 will help ensure their communities' electoral power is not diluted during the all-important redistricting process that is starting to gear up in Springfield.
"Ten years ago, the 2000 census found that Chinatown population had increased by 60 percent during the preceding decade," C.W. Chan, with the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said today. "Asian-American leaders testified at numerous public hearings to adovcate for key Asian communities to be drawn into the same district during the redistricting process, only at the end to have Chinatown divided into four state representative districts and the same fate with city and county districts as well."
Leonard Louie, another neighborhood advocate, said having the area divided over so many political territories has allowed elected officials to "pass the buck over to the other guy" when local concerns arose.
In signing the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, Quinn told an appreciative crowd gathered in the Chinese American Service League building in Chicago the new law will allow racial and language minorities, as well as immigrant groups to get a "fair shake" during the deciennial redistricting process. Here's Quinn at today's event:
The bill provides that during the redistricting process political territories "shall be drawn to create crossover districts, coalition districts, or influence districts." Here's how the legislation defines those three areas:
Greeting the crowd in Haitian Creole, the native language of his immigrant parents, State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), who shepherded the bill through the upper chamber in Springfield, said the state has done a fairly good job of embracing the spirit of the Federal Voting Rights Act. But Chinatown is an exception.
"What we're doing today is codifying that to ensure communities like the Chinatown community, where Illinois has not done a good job of embracing the spirit of the Voting Rights Act -- we're doing that today with our legislation," he said.
Key advocacy organizations, like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are lauding the civil rights aspects contained in the legislation.
The other major plank in the bill Quinn signed today deals with transparency and Illinois' redistricting process. The legislation puts in motion at least four public hearings across the state to take testimony about "applicable existing Districts" that will be redrawn using the census data collected about Illinois last year.
Some civil rights and good government organizations are wary of that language and the minimum number of public meetings; Virginia Martinez, the legislative staff attorney in the Chicago office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), told Progress Illinois in January there's still too great a chance the state's new political boundaries will be drawn in "back rooms" instead of before the public. "We want to make sure they show us what they are working on," she said then.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform weighed in on the bill on their blog today as well:
The new law calls on lawmakers to hold a mere four public hearings in the state before they can pass a map dictating the borders for the Illinois House and Senate districts. The bill doesn’t mandate that lawmakers share maps of those new districts – which will stand for the next 10 years, until after next Census – before they pass them, nor does it create opportunities for the public to involve themselves directly in the boundary-drawing process.
Raoul tried to stress today that the legislation "set a floor -- not a ceiling -- a floor" for public participation in the process, promising that the State Senate's legislative committee dealing with the remap will hold more hearings than what the bill calls for. Redistricting, he told the crowd today, "ought to be a fair and open process."