Illinois Redistricting: Black Democrats Concerned About Minority Representation In Redrawn Districts

Story has been updated with additional comments from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Three African-American congressmen from Illinois have expressed concern over the state's redrawn House and Senate boundaries, suggesting the redistricting may violate the Voting Rights Act and underrepresent minority voters.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. announced Tuesday that he will critically examine the implications of the new boundaries, which broke up key Republican districts and locked in a vast majority of Democratic strongholds.

“I’ve been asked by Congressman [Bobby] Rush and Congressman [Danny] Davis to look into both maps and their implications for Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which all three of our districts are the byproduct of,” Jackson said Tuesday, according to Roll Call. “And at this time, I have not made a judgment, one way or the other.”

Their concerns amplify complaints by Illinois Republicans that the redrawn boundaries were inappropriate, prompting a lawsuit filed by two of the General Assembly's most powerful Republican legislators questioning the map's adherence to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The GOP claims that Democrats' new boundaries restrict black and Latino voters' ability to be fairly represented in government, and claim that the disadvantages created are so egregious that Democrats "should be ashamed of themselves," Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross said in late July.

"The Democrats passed a map this session that we believe is in direct violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act and some of our most basic rights under the constitution," Cross said. "We are optimistic that the court will agree with us and will help give our residents a Fair Map that accurately reflects our population, especially our growing Latino population."

The lawsuit also alleges that the map, which expanded some Democratic Chicago districts to grab the territory of five freshman Republicans, deliberately seeks to disempower the state's Republican party for the next decade, when districts will next be reconsidered.

Reps. Jackson Jr., Rush and Davis demonstrated their objections to the new boundaries at a Democratic delegation meeting last week by refusing to contribute to the fund to cover court fees in the GOP lawsuit, sources familiar with the situation told Roll Call. The suit is expected to cost the Democratic delegation as much as $500,000, and Illinois Democrats were each asked to chip in $10,000 from their campaign funds. The three have not formally announced whether they will side with the GOP in the suit.

"To gain a Democratic majority and partisan advantage, some Democrats may be prepared to tamper with and possibly violate the [Voting Rights Act], rather than support strict enforcement of its provisions," Jackson said in a statement to HuffPost Chicago. "Congressman Rush, Davis and I are not prepared to do that. There is another way. Instead of abandoning the fight against racism and discrimination, both Democrats and Republicans should fight for fairness - political and economic inclusion for all."

Jackson is one of several representatives who will face increasingly ferocious competition in the next election as a result of the new district boundaries, which some speculate contributed to his opposition to the new map. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger's home now falls within the boundaries of Jackson's district, and Debbie Halvorson, who Kinzinger unseated in a close race last November, may appear as a competitor in the predominantly Democratic 2nd district.

Jackson, however, said via email that he, Rush and Davis are acting only on concern for minority representation. The legislation in question, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibits racially discriminatory voting procedures. The concern raised by Illinois Republicans, which Jackson has echoed, is that there are too few districts with a majority Hispanic population--one, with a 66 percent Hispanic voting-age population, compared to three districts with a black voting-age population above 50 percent--considering the Hispanic population in Illinois is greater than the black population, Roll Call reports.

"Redrawn maps after the 2010 census in the 1st, 2nd and 7th [congressional districts] remain essentially unchanged under the Democratic Party's and the Republican Party's maps," Jackson said in a statement. "The only issue is whether Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) was properly taken into account in the redistricting process. With national attention on issues like immigration and high unemployment, we want to make sure that neither side's arguments over the redrawn maps are depriving Latinos of legitimate and deserved representation in Congress."

Meanwhile, several high profile Republicans are facing a less secure reelection as a result of the new boundaries. Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party favorite, announced Wednesday that he would abandon the 8th district, where he was poised to face off against Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishanmoorthi.

Duckworth for Congress released a statement in response to Walsh's announcement citing rumors that GOP sources polled Walsh against Duckworth in the district before finalizing the decision to relocate to the 14th district.

"We don't know the results of the poll, but his retreat makes it clear what the voters told Joe Walsh -- pack your bags," Duckworth's campaign manager said in a statement.

Walsh will now run in the 14th District--against fellow Republican Randy Hultgren.