Illinois Republicans who sued the state’s Board of Elections in federal court last month claimed the new boundaries of the 7th District seat – which comprises Forest Park – in the state’s house, violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Rep. Tom Cross (R-84), the state House’s minority leader, and Sen. Christine Radogno (R-41), the state Senate’s minority leader, argued that the “bizarrely” drawn map, which the General Assembly passed and Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law June 24, discriminates against black and Latino voters. It also allegedly discriminates against Republican voters.
The suit notes that, under the new map, 45 percent of the voting age population is African-American. It argues that, because there is a “sufficiently large and geographically compact” black population around the district, that percentage should exceed 50 percent. Because it doesn’t, it violates the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs allege.
Patty Schuh, Rodogno’s spokeswoman, said the suit is “based on a couple of simple concepts that really center on the most sacred right of our democracy – and that’s the right to vote.”
“The map … violates the Federal Voting Rights Act, because African-Americans and Latinos have not been granted a fair opportunity to participate,” she added.
State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, the Democrat who currently holds the 7th District seat, said, “I don’t think it’s unfair to African-Americans.”
“The best map was drawn to try and accommodate everybody,” she said, adding, “you can’t accommodate everybody.”
Every 10 years the Illinois General Assembly draws a new map that cuts the state into 59 senate districts, each with almost-equal populations (about 217,000 residents per district). Those districts are then each sliced in half to create the districts of 118 state house members. On top of sketching boundaries for themselves, the General Assembly is also in charge of redrawing congressional districts in Illinois – though those boundaries aren’t questioned by this lawsuit. But, last week, Republican Congressmen and a GOP-backed group filed a federal lawsuit citing similar complaints.
The majority party in the General Assembly, in this case the Democrats, can draw the map almost any way they wish as long as it follows the “one man, one vote” rule and adheres to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which compels the fair representation of racial and ethnic minorities.
According to the Republicans’ lawsuit, Illinois Democrats violated the Voting Rights Act by not creating enough districts where a majority of the voters are black or Latino.
The lawsuit also focuses on the disenfranchisement of Latino voters – a major issue in a state where the Hispanic population skyrocketed by 33 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Arguably the most compelling – but legally shaky – lawsuit allegation is that the new map discriminates against Republican voters.
The map puts 25 incumbent Republican members of the General Assembly against one another in the upcoming 2012 election. Conversely, just eight incumbent Democratic members are pitted against one another.
“We believe it [map] violates the 1st amendment because it dilutes the power of Republicans,” Schuh said.
“The redistricting plan will create a substantial Democratic majority in both Houses of the Illinois General Assembly for at least the next decade,” the lawsuit reads. “The redistricting plan systematically and intentionally burdens Republican voters’ rights of political expression and expressive association.”
But there has not been one instance nationally where a federal court threw out a redistricting map because it discriminated against a political party, according to Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Redfield points out that the party affiliation of voters can be hard to define since many eligible voters don’t register as Democrats or Republicans. Redfield added that while Republicans have nothing to lose by filing the lawsuit, the map ought to withstand legal scrutiny.
“The courts are probably going to defer to the legislature on this issue,” Redfield said.
Nick Moroni contributed to this article