Illinois governor to sign redistricting bill aimed at protecting minorities, increasing transparency

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March 7, 2011

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn

CHICAGO, Illinois: Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign legislation today that seeks to protect minorities from becoming disenfranchised during the upcoming redistricting process. It also mandates public hearings on existing districts.[1] It will be the first change to the state's redistricting process in 40 years.[2]

The bill, SB 3976, is made up of two parts. The first, known as the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, is aimed at keeping special communities of interest from being divided. Leaders from Chicago's Chinatown lobbied for the legislation in order to keep their voting power from being diluted. During the last redistricting cycle following the 2000 census, the area was divided into three state Senate districts, four state House districts, and three congressional districts. The bill is to be symbolically signed in Chinatown.[3]

The second part of the bill, the Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act, has been more controversial. It provides for four public hearings around the state in order to hear from the public on existing districts. Many good-government groups has said that this simply does not open up the process enough. Whitney Woodward of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform testified about the bill when it was being considered, stating, “Public comments and involvement is needed to look toward future, not retrospective, maps. This bill does not provide for discussion of draft districting plans. Furthermore, there is no requirement that the public have an opportunity to review and comment on maps after the committee approves a plan, but before it goes to the floor for a vote.”[4]

Another point of contention is that there are only four meetings. Sponsors of the bill, Sen. Kwame Raoul (D) and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D), responded to the criticism by saying that four is the minimum mandated by the legislation, and that they would push for more.