As the data from the 2010 census comes in, the ever-contentious process of redrawing Illinois's legislative maps will soon be under way. A new law that the governor will sign Monday aims to guard against some of the uglier politicking that can surround the process.
But proponents of reform argue that Senate Bill 3976 is little more than lipstick on a pig.
The bill has two parts. The first, the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, is intended to protect the rights of minority groups, particularly those who were disenfranchised in the last redistricting ten years ago. Perhaps most obviously, Chicago's Chinese-American population, clustered in Chinatown, was carved up into four separate State House districts last year, stripping the community of the possibility to have its voice heard collectively. Governor Quinn is signing the measure today in Chinatown as a symbol of his desire to redress those problems, ABC reports.
With an explosion in the state's Latino population, the protections enshrined in the law will also guarantee commensurate representation for that group.
By and large, the Voting Rights Act is viewed as a successful and important piece of legislation. It's the second part of SB 3976 that has left some good-government lobbyists underwhelmed.
The Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act will provide for four public hearings across the state, where citizens can weigh in on the existing legislative districts before the remapping process begins. But the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a group that has advocated for more transparency in the remap, says this doesn't go far enough.
ICPR's Whitney Woodward testified to the State House when it was considering the bill in January. At the time, he said:
Public comments and public involvement are needed to look toward future, not retrospective, maps.
In each of the last three redistricting cycles, there has been limited public dialogue during the map-drawing process. Not surprisingly, an increasingly cynical public has voiced concerns about the resulting maps, and rightfully so. They look at a map of the state’s districts, see dozens of funny-shaped districts, and question why those borders were placed there.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can provide for an open redistricting process which allows for the public to monitor lawmakers' deliberations on a new map and propose improvements to draft maps under consideration.
Cindi Canary, director of ICPR, echoed the sentiment in an editorial in Crain's Chicago Business. "Mr. Quinn has used the transparency mantra as much as anyone. This will be his opportunity to demonstrate whether it's his belief or simply a buzzword," she wrote.
The sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Kwame Raoul and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie -- both Chicago Democrats -- said that the act provided for a minimum number of hearings, and that they would hope to hold more than the law requires, according to the Chicago Tribune.