Nonprofit: Carpentersville could do more to engage Latino residents in politics

Carpentersville officials say they will consider reevaluating their election policies amid allegations their voting system could be stifling minority representation on the village board.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington D.C., is claiming the village's practice of electing its six trustees at-large contributes to vote dilution of the Latino community - a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

A review of the village's demographic and electoral data showed evidence of racially polarized voting, which "diminish(es) the opportunity of Latino voters to elect candidates of their choice," Ruth Greenwood, senior legal counsel for the CLC, said in a March 15 letter to the village. Other voting methods, such as districting the village or using instant runoff voting, could increase the political participation of minority residents, she said.

"We have found that generally where you have issues with a lack of minority representation, there tends to be other problems that follow from that," Greenwood told the Daily Herald. "Our hope would be to empower the growing Latino community in Carpentersville."

In a letter responding to the CLC, Village President John Skillman said the at-large voting process derives from state election laws, which the village has always followed. But he said officials are open to considering alternative voting methods or other feasible suggestions for addressing those issues.

"The village and its board are committed to the inclusion of members of our entire community," Skillman said in the response. "While we respectfully do not take at face value many of the alleged facts and biases suggested in your letter, the village wants nothing (more) than to have the Latino community participate in the voting process and, generally, in local government affairs."

Skillman declined to elaborate to the Daily Herald, saying the two parties first need to "discuss what they're looking for exactly."

The CLC released a report in 2014 identifying Carpentersville as one of dozens of communities with an increasing number of minority residents that had all-white governing bodies. The organization now is following up with those towns ahead of the 2020 census "to see if we can make a change," Greenwood said.

According to 2016 Census Bureau estimates, Latino residents make up 51.6 percent of Carpentersville's population of 38,275. Only one Latino candidate has been elected to the village board in the last 13 years, she said.

Additionally, the organization found the village's minority populations to have low civic involvement and voter turnout, which Greenwood attributed to "a feeling of helplessness." Those frustrations likely stem from a racially charged 2007 election, she said, when a slate of candidates called the "All-American Team" campaigned on platforms of cracking down on undocumented immigrants and making English the official language of the village.

Changing its voting system is one way Carpentersville could better engage the Latino community and avoid a potential lawsuit, Greenwood said. The CLC believes it's possible to draw a redistricting map containing six single-member districts, two of which would have a majority of Latino voters, she said.

Carpentersville could also consider adopting instant runoff voting, which would keep an at-large system and allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, Greenwood said. Election officials would use those rankings to determine the winners, while also accounting for cohesion among voting blocs.

Though "intrigued" by the recommendations, Skillman said the village is limited by state regulations, which require changes to a municipality's voting system to be approved through a referendum. He asked the CLC to consider those roadblocks.

The organization plans to organize a meeting with village officials and community members to discuss possible solutions, which could be as simple as offering village board materials in Spanish, Greenwood said.

"My hope would be that Carpentersville can sort of escape the terrors of 2007 and really embrace its diversity and kind of become a model for the area," she said.

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