NAACP Map Approved by Champaign County Board

May 20, 2011

The Champaign County board approved a 10-year district map Thursday night that was drawn by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The map seeks to magnify the impact of minority groups during elections.

The county board added two districts, which board members say will become urban areas based on population growth. The local NAACP says those two districts have an opportunity to attract a large number of minorities who can influence elections. The group's former director, Rev. Jerome Chambers, said he hopes the redistricting plan gives more people a feeling that their votes count.

"This is perhaps maybe getting finally a piece of the pie instead of the crumbs from the master's table," Chambers said. "I think it's monumental, and I'm glad to have been a part of it."

Champaign County Farm Bureau President Jerry Watson criticized the map before the vote, saying it doesn't have enough districts that are majority rural.

"Farm Bureau wants a map that will show a fair and equal opportunity of representing all citizens," Watson said. "Without four majority rural districts, that simply is not going to be achieved.

The board was expected to talk about two others maps, which were designed by the county's regional planning commission. Republican board member Alan Nudo said he was stunned there wasn't any discussion about them before the vote.

"The board had asked for three maps to discuss," Nudo said. "They wanted three maps. We didn't discuss any of them. We didn't know the merits between A, B, and C. It could have been done better. Probably the same map would have been selected, but I have some concerns about that map."

Nudo questions who actually drew the map, and said the map does not contain a majority minority district. A majority minority district is where minorities make more than half of the voting age population.

Leading up to Thursday's vote of the NAACP map, the Champaign County Redistricting Commission studied nearly 30 different maps since January. The commission had asked a planner to tweak prospective maps designed by the county's Regional Planning Commission to emphasize items like population variance, rural districts, and the so-called 'majority minority' districts.

Democratic Champaign County Board member Michael Richards, who served on the redistricting commission, said he is confident certain areas of the county will continue to elect minority candidates even if they aren't considered a majority minority district.

"The U.S. Justice Department is not concerned about whether you must have a district that is majority African American to elect African Americans in Champaign County because we've been doing it for decades," Richards said. "It's just not possible to take a square of the community that is 20,000 people and to have it be majority African American."

Richards said the NAACP map includes many of the features that are part of the county's existing district map, including three and a half rural districts, one district designed to have an all African American representation and one minority influence district with a multi-racial representation.

The map also creates a majority campus district stretching from downtown Champaign to the Illinois Street residence halls on Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.

According to Richards, the final vote for the map was 14-13, with all Democrats voting in favor of the plan except for Brendan McGinty (D-Urbana). Every Republican voted against the measure.

By the time the chosen map takes effect in 2012, the county board will be reduced by five members, and divided into 11 districts rather than nine.

Story source: WILL