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updated: 3/24/2011 6:16 PM

Hispanics, district size, key in Kane Co. board cuts

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An explosion in Kane County's Hispanic population during the past decade will be a key factor in which county board seats are cut, if any, and how the new districts are shaped.

State Rep. Mike Fortner is a bit of an expert on the redistricting process in his private life. The county is consulting with him during its drawing of new maps and will review a proposal from Fortner for more extensive help. Key in that help is the county avoiding a lawsuit that could result in any map with lines deemed unfairly drawn to dilute the possibility of the county's new, robust, Hispanic population from electing candidates of their choice.

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This is virgin territory for the county. The last time it drew district lines in 2000 there hadn't been a huge population increase, much less a Hispanic boom. Hispanics are now 31 percent of Kane County's population. That's an influx of more than 62,000 Hispanics in the past 10 years, accounting for a 7 percentage point increase in how much of the local population they account for. That makes it more likely that there are highly concentrated pockets of Hispanic residents accounting for a large portion of potential local voters. The word "potential" is key.

Fortner told county board members this week the key demographic point is voting age, not whether or not a person is actually registered to vote.

"If you can create a reasonably compact district that is over 50 percent of a single minority voting age population, and there's a clear difference in voting patterns between the minority population in that area and the white majority population in that area, then the map is compelled to create districts to give that minority group an opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice," Fortner said.

Generally, 55 to 60 percent is enough of a minority voting age population concentration to trigger such a district, although that issue hasn't been clearly sorted out by the courts yet, Fortner said.

In terms of establishing a voting preference that contrasts with the local white majority, that could be as simple as determining local voting patterns in partisan-based elections, Fortner added.

"Bottom line, you need to watch out and make sure that the rights of the Latino minority are given the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice," Fortner advised.

Doing otherwise would almost certainly spark a lawsuit. Hispanic districts will play a large role in determining the new county board seat boundary lines, then. Areas of the county with the largest concentration of Hispanics are Elgin, Aurora and Dundee townships, including the major municipalities they contain.

The minority vote will pair with a call to trim the size of the board as two of the early issues the county board will address in drawing a new map. Fortner also told the board it's clear major changes in the size, if not the number of districts is needed. Some districts are currently more than twice the size, in terms of population, than other districts. Indeed, some districts actually shrank in population size over the past decade compared to dramatic growth in others. Those shrinking districts may be a target for the most major changes and/or elimination.

There are six districts that shrank in size in the past decade: District 4, represented by Aurora's Bonnie Kunkel; District 10, represented by Batavia's Tom Van Cleave; District 13, represented by St. Charles' Phil Lewis; District 17, represented by Elgin's Deb Allan; District 18, represented by Elgin's Jeanette Mihalec; and District 20, represented by Elgin's Cristina Castro.

The county's redistricting task force meets again March 29.

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