In new district map, minorities wary of marginalization

Advocacy groups are threatening litigation, arguing that the new district lines under-represent their constituencies.

By Jennifer Standish

The Chicago City Council approved a map with new boundaries for aldermanic wards last month that some suspect misrepresents minority populations and may lead to a lawsuit to force the city to redraw the districts.

At the heart of the issue is whether newly drawn ward boundaries accurately reflect Chicago’s racial composition.

Alleged disparities in the population voting distribution are based on data from the 2010 Census Bureau results. Since 2000, the Hispanic population has expanded by more than 25,000 people, increasing its percentage of the city’s total demographic from 26 to 28.9 percent. At the same time, the African American community experienced a decrease of nearly 200,000 people, changing its composition from 36.8 percent of Chicago’s population to 32.4 percent.

While no legal action has been taken yet, Latino advocacy organizations say that the map under-represents the city’s Latino population, according to an article published in Chicago magazine earlier this month. According to an analysis by the Latino Policy Forum, a non-profit Latino advocacy organization, Latino voters comprise the effective majority—more than 60 percent of the voting population—in only 10 of the 50 redrawn wards while Latino communities constitute nearly a third of Chicago’s population.

John Mark Hansen, dean of the social sciences division, said the basis for a lawsuit would be whether or not the new ward map adheres to the Voting Rights Act and the “one person, one vote” standard.

“You most likely can’t increase both Latino representation and maintain current level of African American representation,” Hansen said.

The United States Supreme Court has established certain standards in past cases regarding congressional redistricting.

“One of the key things that the court has ruled,” Hansen said, is that “the electoral districts are not supposed to deviate very much from equality in numbers of eligible voters.”

Along with this, congressional districts cannot be gerrymandered to produce a certain racial composition, but race can be taken into account.

According to Hansen, the question of how much of a role race can play in the congressional redistricting process is often the cause of the disputes that arise. Aldermanic ward redistricting is similar: Because of the drastic shift in the overall population and racial makeup of Chicago, the conflicts over the newly amended ward map will likely center on race.

“There would be either African Americans or Latinos who were unhappy about the allocation of the representation that they have. So I assume that [the potential lawsuits would] have to do with that,” Hansen said.

On the South Side, losses in public housing and job opportunities have led to changes in population composition; some ward boundaries will likely shift dramatically as a result. Hyde Park, however, remains divided among the fourth, fifth, and 20th wards in proposed redistricting maps.

In the end, Hansen said, redistricting efforts are unlikely to strongly affect Hyde Park’s political influence because of the monetary resources and activism prevalent in the area.

“Hyde Park and Kenwood are going to have disproportionate influence in whatever wards they’re in, because you know an alderman just doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of a major constituency within the ward,” he said.