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Ward Remap Violates Civil Rights Act, Say IIT Researchers

By Ted Cox | April 12, 2013 4:50pm
 A comparison between city ward maps in 1960 and 2015 show how drastically the boundaries have changed.
A comparison between city ward maps in 1960 and 2015 show how drastically the boundaries have changed.
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City of Chicago

CHICAGO — The city's new ward remap is "perverted," "bizarre" and unfair to voters, according to an academic paper presented downtown Friday.

"We see clear evidence of gerrymandering in the bizarre shapes of Chicago's wards," declares "Cracking and Packing in Chicago: An Argument for More Informed Analysis of Gerrymandering," by three Illinois Institute of Technology researchers.

"There is some clear tinkering going on," said Matthew Shapiro, assistant professor of political science and head author of the study along with IIT researchers W. David Work and Daniel Bliss. They presented the paper Friday as part of the annual Midwest Political Science Association Conference at the Palmer House Hilton.

The paper does not attempt to place blame for what it calls "the apparent illogic of the new aldermanic ward boundaries."

"We're not speculating anything right now," Shapiro says.

But by comparing the approved 2015 remap with the previous 2000 map — and especially against the 1960 ward map of a half-century ago — it aims "to show that the foundation for racial gerrymandering is occurring in the city and, thus, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

The League of Women Voters of Chicago and a dozen residents made the same charges earlier this month in a federal suit filed against the city by attorney Thomas Geoghegan that also seeks an injunction against the "unlawful early implementation" of the new map.

Asked about the suit Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, "The corporation counsel is looking at that, evaluating a decision."

Shapiro said he has sent his study to the League of Women Voters. "I would think it would be valuable to them," he added.

Using data from the Chicago Data Portal cross-referenced with a geographic information system, the paper shows that "ward shapes are getting even more perverted." It proves mathematically that ward boundaries are getting more extended and irregular, but then it also delves into the shifting racial makeup of a few key wards.

"These are not insignificant shifts," Shapiro said.

Two wards, the 2nd and the 15th, see dramatic drops in African-American voters. The 36th sees a drop in white voters and a dramatic rise in Hispanics.

"Cracking and Packing" refers to how some neighborhoods are cracked into separate wards, and the wards are then packed with other voters. The suit cites Chinatown, which is divided in two wards. In fact, the city has never elected a Chinese-American alderman, and freshman Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) is considered the first Asian-American alderman. The suit also cites how Back of the Yards is divided among five wards, as is Logan Square.

The federal suit specifically cited the 2nd, 15th and 36th wards as being gerrymandered. "That's exactly right," Shapiro said.

Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Nick Sposato (36th) have challenged the early imposition of the new map, saying it shouldn't take effect until the 2015 election. The Tribune recently suggested in an editorial it was political payback for the mavericks.

The federal suit charged that it made a few aldermen pay for assuring the re-election of 41 others in order to avoid a public referendum on the issue that can be demanded if 10 aldermen ask for it. It cited Ald. Patrick O'Connor's defense that it was meant to earn 41 votes "so that we would not have a referendum — and that's what we achieved."

The remap passed in 2012 without floor debate, 41-8, and although Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton issued a decision that it should take effect the next election, council committee chairmen have begun observing the new map in order for aldermen to begin serving their new constituents.