By Andrew Thomason Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Despite gaining districts in the Illinois House and Senate, many Hispanic groups say the proposed redistricting map doesn’t adequately reflect their growing population in the state.
Nina Perales even went as far as to say the map — House Bill 3760 — would be illegal if adopted.
“We believe that HB 3760 does not create a sufficient number of districts for Latino electoral opportunities to comply with the (federal) Voting Rights Act,” said Perales, director of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF, a organization that works for Hispanic rights.
Perales said the map violates the federal statute, which prohibits racial discrimination, by not establishing enough strong Hispanic districts. Perales would not say whether MALDEF, which has filed at least four lawsuits related to redistricting since 1980, would sue over the redistricting map.
In the proposed map, Hispanics gained three more districts in the House for a total of 11, and one district in the Senate for a total of five. States use U.S. census figures to redraw legislative and congressional districts every decade. The Hispanic population in Illinois grew by nearly 33 percent during the past 10 years, according to census numbers.
One of the biggest complaints MALDEF and others have with the map is the number of voting-age Hispanics for many of the new majority-minority districts isn’t high enough. Their preferred 65-percent majority exists in six House districts and no Senate districts.
Miguel De Valle, a former state Senator who has been involved in redistricting legal cases for the past 40 years, said the Hispanic population counted by the U.S. Census Bureau includes voting-age people who aren’t eligible to vote. Census takers aged residents for their birth dates but did not ask about their legal status.
“So when I look at these 51 (percent) and 52 percent numbers of voting age population in these districts, and I take that into account, we could be under 50 percent” in terms of eligible voters, De Valle said.
Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, a nonprofit advocacy group for the Hispanic community in Illinois, said the 65 percent measure wasn’t picked arbitrarily.
“Our understanding is most case law in redistricting cases indicates that that’s a threshold that’s acceptable for Latinos to elect candidates of their choice,” Puente said.
She said her organization and MALDEF plan to create 13 House districts in which the 65 percent mark is met, though they did not have a legislator to sponsor the redistricting map.
However, United Neighborhoods Organization, or UNO, supported the proposed map.
“We recognize and accept that Illinois’ Legislature must strike a balance with other minority groups' interest, particularly the African-American community,” Juan Rangel, UNO chief executive officer. “We believe that the proposed map fairly balances those changes in population and the stakes other communities have in the Illinois legislature.”
UNO is a nonprofit group working to help the Hispanic community in Chicago, according to its website.
The redistricting plan has given many politically minded Hispanics, who generally vote for Democrats in Illinois, a strange bedfellow: Republicans.
During a joint hearing of the House Redistricting and Senate Redistricting committees, several Republicans said many districts drawn to elect Hispanic-favored candidates barely broached the 50 percent mark for voting age Hispanics.
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, voiced concern that voting districts that didn't have a higher threshold of voting-age Hispanics might be counted as a majority-minority district on paper, but in reality would not elect a Hispanic-favored legislator.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, is sponsoring HB 3760 and said anyone is free to offer suggestions for improvement to the proposed map before the General Assembly approves the final map by May 31.