Latino organizations and voting rights advocates across the state of Illinois are calling on local officials to give the public more time to review redrawn legislative district lines ahead of a crucial special session of the state's General Assembly this week.
The Illinois House and Senate are expected to meet in Springfield on Tuesday for a one-day special session to redraw state legislative district maps for a second time.
Earlier in August, a federal judge rejected a Republican-led effort to throw out Democrats' legislative district maps.
The judge, however, said that Democrats must also investigate ongoing concerns that minority communities in the state were undercounted in the census.
Speaking at a joint hearing of House and Senate Redistricting Committees ahead of the special session, Latino Policy Forum external affairs associate director Robert Valdez said he believes that local officials should not move to vote on any new maps before the public is given adequate time to review proposals.
"It would be ideal to have a minimum of 30 days...not only to conduct the analysis, produce a map, but also [to] try to conduct discussion groups with our community-based organizations," he said.
The session comes amid accusations from state Republicans that their Democratic counterparts are attempting to redraw district lines to retain their current majority in both the House and Senate.
One set of new legislative lines had already been signed into law earlier in June. Analysts warned, however, that the redistricting relied on â€˜estimated' census data, as the release of current census data was delayed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An LPO source in Chicago - who asked not to be named - said that among many Latinos, there is a concern that the community's numbers are not accurately reflected in the data.
"Latinos are clearly the fastest growing group in this state, just like they are across the country," the source said. "Any changes to district lines really, really need to reflect that, or it's a case of partisan politics coming in the way of community engagement."
Miguel del Valle, a former state senator who now serves as president of the Chicago Board of Education, recently testified that the growth of the Latino population means that "it is only right that we be looking at those numbers and see where the modifications need to be made."
Analysts have said that census data released on August 12 shows that many of the districts approved in May were unequal. Additionally, many of the state's most densely populated urban areas - such as Chicago - grew more significantly than had previously been believed.
Detailed racial, ethnic and demographic data is not yet available at a local level. Community leaders have urged lawmakers to wait for that data before deciding on any new redistricting maps.
Republicans have sought to portray the process as not being transparent and not taking into account realities in many communities.
Last week, for example, Springfield Republican representative Tim Butler directed his testimony at community members who were also planning to testify on the topic.
"Have you been invited to those meetings so far to look at the maps? Are you having solid input on what these maps are going to be? No," he said. "They're being drawn by the majority as we saw in the spring with partisan intent."
The LPO source said he agreed that the process "is just for the optics", with "very little possibility" that Latino communities are reflected accurately.
The redistricting in Illinois is already the subject of a number of lawsuits, including one from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which argued that the maps passed in May do not accurately reflect the state's large Latino population.
In a statement, MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz said that "Illinois voters, including the growing Latino community, are entitled to districts that accurately reflect the population as determined by the constitutionally mandated decennial census."
"Ultimately, the General Assembly will have to redraw lines for the 2022 elections using the proper decennial census data," Saenz added.
In particular, attorneys for MALDEF have noted that the previously approved redistricting data largely relied on data from the American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted every five years and only samples 2.5% of the US population.
"Using the ACS estimates to draw district boundaries puts all Illinois voters - especially those in traditionally underrepresented communities, such as Latinos - at risk of being disenfranchised," MALDEF attorney Francisco Fernandez-del Castillo said.
Around the country, Latino communities have voiced similar fears of being disenfranchised as a result of census-related issues.
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