Illinois law aims to protect minority voter rights

March 7, 2011

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(WBEZ/ Odette Yousef)
Quinn signed the redistricting legislation in Chicago's Chinatown.

Minority group advocates say Illinois took a big step Monday toward protecting their political voices with the signing of the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011.

“The rules in the districts are gerrymandered so they are rigged against anyone who may have a group in a particular area,” said Governor Pat Quinn at the bill signing in Chicago’s Chinatown. “One of the purposes of the law is to make sure our racial minorities, our language minorities, our citizens who live in a particular area, get a fair chance to elect the person of their choice.”

The law was introduced by State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, after both Republicans and Democrats failed to rewrite the laws that govern legislative redistricting. Both parties proposed competing amendments to the state constitution to avoid what happened the last three times the lines were drawn: partisan deadlocks forced legislators to choose either a Democrat or a Republican from a hat, literally, and the winner drew the map.

Chinatown community leaders praised the new law, which they had lobbied for in Springfield. C.W. Chan of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said when Illinois redistricted in the past, Chinatown became a textbook case of how concentrated minority populations could be marginalized.

“Despite meeting all criteria for inclusion in a single district, like compactness, contiguity, and being a community of interest,” said Chan, “we are nevertheless not protected by any law as we do not have the magic number of the voting age majority.”

Chan hopes the new law will help Chinese-Americans on Chicago’s South Side fall into fewer legislative and representative districts. Currently, they are divided between four wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts, and three Congressional districts. Community leaders say that has made it difficult to lobby for the government services and resources that their immigrant community needs.