By Andrew Thomason Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – A new law requiring that communities with similar demographics like language or race be kept together when the lines of Illinois’ political map are redrawn this spring was signed Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn Monday.
That law, though, was created before the 2010 census numbers were tallied. Chicago and Cook County both lost population while the surrounding counties saw significant population gains.
Census figures show the state’s concentrated Hispanic population moving from Chicago to the surrounding collar counties. Illinois’ Asian population numbers, the fastest growing in the state, also swelled in the collar counties. Both of those population groups grew by more than 30 percent in the entire state during the past decade.
As the state grows more diversified, those in the growing minorities are seeking more influence in government.
The law Quinn signed Monday had origins in Chicago’s Asian community after Chinatown’s population was split up during the 2000 redistricting. Leaders in that community said that prevented their ability to significantly influence elections.
“For many, many racial minorities and citizens who come to our state who want to be part of our democracy, it’s important that the remapping and the redistricting lines be done in a fair way, and that’s what this law is all about,” Quinn said.
How the new law will interact with new census numbers and current redistricting statute has yet to be assessed.
According to the state’s Constitution, districts must be “compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.” The contiguous requirement should be easy to follow, according to political scientist Chris Mooney, but in order to keep populations of a certain ethnicity in the same districts, the districts could end up looking like an octopus.
“Districts look, they have looked pretty weird for various reasons — political reasons and trying to develop demographics profiles in particular,” said Mooney, a professor of political studies with the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “But there’s only so much you can do given how many people live where and who they are.”
Population bloomed in Kendall County by more than 25 percent during the past 10 years. Its Hispanic numbers grew, though that demographic still makes up a small percentage of the total population, according to Kendall County Democratic Party Chair Chuck Sutcliff. To group enough Hispanics together so they could have a significant impact on elections would take creative map drawing, Sutcliff said.
“It would have to be a strange, strange, (district.) Of course in redistricting the possibility of a strange looking representative area isn’t unusual. There have always been those kinds of unusual strange ties of one population to another,” he said.
And that’s the rub, according to Mooney. There are so many facets to redistricting that one issue might dominate in one district while several issues might go into forming another.
“There are many things that people want to see in districts. The problem is that they sometimes conflict with one another and the ones that are the least required by law and least clear cut, like compactness, those suffer,” Mooney said.
The process this year for redistricting will be different compared to all the other times the lines have moved under the current state constitution. For the first time one party, the Democrats, control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor’s office, giving them the ability to push through whatever map they want, regardless of Republican wishes.
Calls seeking comment from local Republican Party spokesmen were not returned.