Illinois is taking steps to protect its minority communities ahead of state redistricting. A new law will protect the voting rights of racial and language minority communities in the state by making it hard to divide up groups between several districts and effectively split votes. The Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011, will allow for the creation of crossover districts, coalition districts and influence districts.
Essentially, the new law will encourage lawmakers involved in the redistricting process to draw lines around communities instead of through them. Under the crossover district allowance, the minority group maintains its minority status but is still large enough to elect its own candidate with the help of some crossover support. Similarly, by creating coalition districts minority groups with common interests will be able to partner together to elect a candidate that reflects their shared goals. Finally, influence districts will allow for minorities to remain together and influence elections even if they may not have enough of a foothold to elect a candidate even with crossover support.
Along with creating the district designations outlined above, the new law also requires that the legislature hold a minimum of four public hearings before a redistricting plan is approved.
The Illinois bill is notable as one of the first major redistricting packages to pass that protects minority communities as redistricting gets underway across the nation. Several states have seen shifts in power as a result of the 2010 elections and as a result have also seen shifts in their plans for redistricting. In New York, Republicans who previously signed a pledge in support of independent redistricting have recently moved away from this as they find themselves in power. However, not all shifts will work out quite as well for new Republican majorities – Ohio and Pennsylvania will have difficulties redistricting in a way to maintain control despite recent electoral victories.
Other states have seen shifts in not only political power but population, causing leaders to call for redistricting that helps smaller districts maintain some level of voting power in order to be fair.
“Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in government is crucial to our democracy,” said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn of the redistricting process.