Chinese communities seek consolidation in one district
04/28/2010 10:00 PM
Chinatown, Bridgeport and McKinley Park – home to much of the city’s Chinese-descended and immigrant populations – are politically fragmented, split between four city wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts and three U.S. congressional districts.
C.W. Chan, chair of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said an expanding Chinese-American community now includes 59 contiguous precincts on the city’s Near South Side.
But while Chan said community organizing efforts had increased the number of registered voters in this zone from 2,000 to 6,000 over the past 10 years, the political power of these voters has been diluted by redistricting and elected officials can’t be held accountable.
It’s a problem that Asian-American organizations are seeking to address in Springfield, where state legislators are discussing changes to how political districts in Illinois are drawn.
“We’re scattered all over the place,” Chan said. “We would like all of these voters to be included in the same district.”
“Any problem that we face, we have to go to multiple legislators,” he 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.
Community representatives have testified in Springfield before the State Senate Redistricting Committee, which recently passed a measure that would overhaul how legislative districts are drawn in Illinois. Language added in the bill calls redrawing districts to allow “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,” among other provisions.
The full Senate approved the amendment, which was sponsored by State Sen. Kwame Raoul.
Ami Gandhi, legal director of the Asian American Institute, said the new Senate measure “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 groups.
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 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.”