Members of the city’s Redistricting Committee are beginning to test different scenarios to produce a balanced ward map — a delicate process, with one change having the potential of throwing other wards out of whack.

The city’s population stood at 78,810, according to the 2020 Census, and showed a 20.4% difference between the largest ward, the Third and smallest, the Ninth.

Ideally, with less than a 10% difference regarded as compliant with the “one person, one vote,” standard, members are aiming to get as close to zero as they can in the  map they develop.

At its Aug. 23 meeting, Committee members zeroed in on different changes that might bring the city’s Second and Fourth Wards into balance.

According to the 2020 Census, the Second Ward shows a total population of 9,111, which is 432 more or 5% above average.

The Fourth Ward has a total population of 8,473, and is 206 people less or 2.4% below average.

Beyond that, pointed out Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, chair of the committee, “if you look at the wards that border the Second Ward, First, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth, all of those wards are above average. So this is not  going to be a simple solution of just shifting some population from the Second Ward to the Ninth Ward for example.”

In addition, Committee members had declared at the start of the remapping process to set off three wards as majority-minority wards — the Second, Fifth and Eighth.

Two wards, one block

“So we’ll keep that in mind as we go through this process as well,” Nieuwsma said.

In discussion, Committee members as well as the small number of residents participating in the virtual meeting raised other factors as well.

  • However the group draws the map, the Second Ward should continue to include a portion of downtown, said Council member Melissa Wynne, Third. “I think it has always been valuable to have a Second Ward Alderperson involved with downtown issues just like the First Ward and Fourth Ward Council members have been over time,” she said.
  • The city should move to correct a split down the 1700 block of Darrow Avenue, with the west side of the street in the Fifth Ward and the east side in the Second, said Carlis Sutton, a longtime resident. Nieuwsma’s mouse pointer pinpointed the three blocks – the portion of Darrow included, that could be neatly moved just north into the Fifth. Even with the addition, “I think it’s safe to say that  because the Fifth Ward  is already undersized, anything that’s currently in the Fifth Ward is pretty like to remain in the Fifth Ward,’’ he said. The blocks could also be moved  into the Fourth, just southeast. “That’s a possibility,” Nieuwsma agreed.
  • Nieuwsma raised the possibility of changing map lines shifting the Robert Crown Community Center at 1801 Main St., to the Second Ward from the Fourth, its home now, explaining that “geographically it would just  seem a little bit cleaner,” he said. Wynne observed that residents living around Crown haven’t particularly identified with their ward when dealing with issues at the center in the past.

The panhandle

“So that might be an argument for  putting Robert  Crown in  the Second Ward,” responded Nieuwsma, “since most  of the surrounding neighbors, at least with the current map, are Second Ward residents.”

Moving some blocks which currently fall in Wynne’s Third Ward, at 11.7%  above the average the most populous in the city,  into the Fourth  (2.4% below average) also received attention.

The section runs just south of Lake Street past Greenwood to Dempster streets, and is located just off Chicago Avenue, west of the tracks.

Wynne, the senior member of the Council, referred to it as the “panhandle.”

“It actually used to be more of a top hat,” she said.

The section was formerly in the Fourth and moved into the Third in a previous remapping.

“Yes the railroad tracks do present more of a boundary” (a criteria in the mapping process), said Wynne, “but in that area the railroad tracks don’t present as big a boundary as farther south.” She said the change would make a lot of sense because of the crossover from one side to the other in that area.

In drawing a new map, officials are relying on criteria developed in the city’s 2003 remapping.

They include compactness, contiguity, natural geographic boundaries, minimization of voter confusion, communities of interest (residential property owner, municipal taxpayers, lakefront property owners, commercial business interests, student population), traditional Evanston neighborhoods, and protection of incumbency.

Income equity raised too

At  the Aug. 23 meeting, Council member Clare Kelly, (1st Ward), asked members to add income to the list. “I think that’s a really important component.”

Tina Paden, a longtime resident and landlord who has been participating in the discussions, also supported that criteria, “if you’re talking about fair and equitable.”

She suggested a remapping that would shift portions of the Sixth Ward (87% white according to the 2020 Census) and/or Seventh (72% white) into the Fifth (68% Black and 8.1% under average population.

Nieuwsma noted that the Committee has already made a declaration to maintain three majority-minority wards in their final mapping.

The Committee’s next meeting is Sept. 27 and will focus on the Fifth Ward.

Committee members want to begin drafting several maps at the end of this year, and releasing a final map or maps in January 2023.

Public comment on the proposals is to take place between February and April 2023, under the group’s schedule. The final Council approval is tentatively set for May 2023.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.