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Painting the Sistine Chapel or Map-Making?

Latino Policy Forum Analysis on

Chicago's Toubling New Ward Maps  

On the morning on January 19, more than six weeks past a December 1 deadline, the Chicago City Council approved a new ward map with a vote of 41-8. Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th ward) quipped that the map had been in the works for as long as it took to paint the Sistine Chapel.


It's a shame that the results don't merit the time invested: The Latino Policy Forum's preliminary analysis of the new maps -- and the back-door process employed to create them -- shows a lack of transparency and accountability to the residents of Chicago.  It also clearly shows that only 10 Latino effective majority wards were created -- a far cry from the the 13 that have been enthusiastically touted by the Council and the media.


Voting Age Population & Latino Districts

A 1984 decision by the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals states that 60 percent voting age population (VAP) is the minimum threshold needed when creating effective Latino wards (Ketchum v. Byrne, 740 F. 2nd 1398, 1415, 7th Cir., 1984).  Given the young age demographic of the Latino community -- an estimated 40 percent of Illinois Latinos are under the age of 18 -- a traditional 51 percent majority is not considered to be "effective" for Latino voters to elect the representative of their choice.


Advocates were disappointed that while at least one proposal clearly showed the potential to create 14 Latino effective majority wards (wards with at least a 60 percent VAP), only 10 such districts ended up in the final map.  And these 10 districts -- a mere 20 percent of City Hall -- do not represent parity in a city that is nearly one-third Latino.


Latino Ward Chart - 2   


Specific wards have also become points of contention, such as the 13th (Southwest Side) and the 25th (Back of the Yards and Chinatown) that could easily have been drawn to reach the 60 percent Latino threshold.  


Transparency & Accountability   

The Latino Policy Forum worked closely with the Illinois Campaign for Accountable Redistricting (ICAR) to encourage City Hall to pass a resolution on November 2. In this resolution, aldermen pledged to increase transparency and accountability through a series of public hearings to be staged throughout the remap process. 


Specifically the resolution called for alderman to provide "residents of Chicago the opportunity to submit, in person and electronically, proposals and testimony on the 2011 redistricting, and to give consideration to public input on any map proposed to the Chicago City Council, and (....) and then holding one (1) public hearing on any Ward map submitted to the Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics for final consideration".


Although alderman held three hearings throughout the process, at least one was called with just days notice. And the morning vote on January 19, called less than two hours after final maps had been drawn, failed to fulfill aldermen's promises to incorporate public feedback into the verdict on the final map. In fact, many of the aldermen themselves were not given ample time to review the final maps. And although two aldermen attempted to invoke a "defer and publish" parliamentary procedure, effectively adjourning the meeting to allow the public to review and study the final map and delay the vote, it was quickly dismissed on procedural grounds. 


While our aldermen and mayor may have felt they dedicated hours to deliberating the lines, the bottom line is that the public--the very people affected by the maps--were afforded very little opportunity to do so. Although the resolution passed by City Hall was not legally binding, our aldermen have broken the very promises that they themselves drafted. 


Additional Challenges

In addition to frustrations related to VAP and transparency, the final map, as passed, has numerous issues that might not escape potential legal challenges. North Side wards "packed" residents--some have 4,000-plus more constituents than wards on the South Side-- representing a violation of the equal protections clause, "one person, one vote" rule that requires all districts to be drawn with equal populations. 


What's more, communities across the city, including Back of the Yards, Logan Square, and Chinatown, were fractured and gerrymandered, divided into as many five different wards in the new map, despite their repeated and persistent public comments pleading to keep their communities intact. However, other communities in jeopardy of being divided, such as Lincoln Park, Bridgeport, and Beverly, were quickly fixed after public input. 



City officials who claim that they have more pressing issues to consider than maps have forgotten that redistricting is one of the most important and fundamental processes in our democratic society.  We are disappointed that final district lines -- boundaries that will dictate issues as weighty as human services and education, as routine as garbage pick-up and parking stickers for nearly three million people over the next decade -- were hastily voted on before the ink could even dry on the photocopies. 


The people of Chicago deserve better. 


For more information on our analysis and reaction to the maps, see Greg Hinz's blog in Crain's Chicago Business.


For additional information on Chicago's new maps or the redistricting process, contact Isabel Anadon


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