Asian-American groups are pleased with Illinois Senate approval of a constitutional amendment to change a redistricting process that has split the community’s political power. But they haven’t stopped their advocacy yet.
Group representatives had testified Monday in Springfield before the State Senate Redistricting Committee, which passed the proposed measure Monday, and the full Senate approved the amendment Wednesday.
CW Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community who testified before the committee, said he endorsed the measure, championed by State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), because it included language protecting the interests of minority communities.
The amendment, if approved by state referendum, would “provide racial and language minorities who constitute less than a voting-age majority of a district with an opportunity to control or substantially influence the outcome of an election.”
Chan said the expanding Chinese-American community that now includes 59 contiguous precincts on the city’s Near South Side has been particularly hard hit by past redistricting. While community organizing efforts increased the number of registered voters from 2,000 to 6,000 in the past 10 years, Chan said, the political power of these voters has been diluted by redistricting.
“We’re scattered all over the place,” Chan said, “We would like all of these voters to be included in the same district.”
Rebecca Shi, a community organizer with the Chinese American Service League, said the Chinese-American community in the Chinatown, Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods is split between four city wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts and three U.S. congressional districts. As a result, Shi said, elected officials can’t be held accountable.
“Any problem that we face, we have to go to multiple legislators,” Chan said. He cited an overcrowded public library, a shortage of recreational facilities and long waiting lists for subsidized housing as community concerns that had been neglected by elected officials.
Ami Gandhi, legal director of the Asian American Institute, also testified about her concerns with the current redistricting process and its impact on Chicago’s Asian-American community. The process, Gandhi said, “lends itself to politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.”
While the institute is still evaluating the ramifications of the Senate measure, Gandhi said, “It is definitely a step in the right direction for minority voting rights.”
Gandhi said the institute is advocating for redistricting reforms that would include greater protection for minority communities that make up less than 50 percent of an area to elect the candidate of their choice. The institute would also like to see more hearings about proposed maps to allow more community input on the redistricting process, Gandhi said. Removing a requirement that two state house districts be nested in a senate district would give map drawers greater flexibility to reflect the needs of communities, she said.
Gandhi said the institute was working with non-Asian-American communities to ensure that redistricting changes that would benefit Asian-Americans would not harm other communities. Still, she said, Asian-American communities may have different needs than other groups who share political districts, citing the need for multilingual and culturally relevant social services as an example.
Chan said a meeting with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was planned for Saturday to encourage House passage. Chan said his goal was to help the legislature know about his community’s situation: “Recognizing the problem is the first step to rectifying it.”
Originally published April 15, 2010 as “Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process” at Medill Reports.