As an Evanston city committee goes deeper in the first remapping of the city’s political boundaries in nearly 20 years, the exercise is proving more daunting than group members predicted at the onset.
At the Oct. 25 meeting, members of the Council’s Redistricting Committee focused on the 6th and 7th Wards, located in the northern part of the city.
Both wards have more residents than the city’s average of 8,679 per ward, according to the 2020 Census.
The population of the 6th Ward at 8,961, is 3.3% higher than average, and the 7th Ward, at 9,047, is 4.2% higher.
Two other wards, both undersized, sit close by — the 1st Ward to the south, at 8,088 people or 6.8% under the average, and the 5th Ward, with 7,974, is 8.1% below average.
At the outset of the remapping process in May, committee members planned to produce a map with as even a population as possible across all nine wards — in line with state law that calls for wards to be “as nearly equal in population and as compact and contiguous territory as practical.”
The committee also committed to keeping three wards majority-minority districts. According to the 2020 Census, minorities (in the voting age population) constitute majorities in the 2nd, 5th and 8th Wards.
Right now, the difference between the city’s largest ward population-wise, the 3rd, and the smallest, the 9th, is 20.4%.
Starting off the conversation at the Oct. 25 meeting, Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, summed up the challenge before the group, noting “we have some wards that may be fairly close to par, but they need to gain some territory on one side and lose some territory on the other side” as committee members strive for a map balanced citywide.
He said the northwest 6th Ward, one of those wards close to par, is also unique in that it borders only one other ward, the 7th.
A portion of the 6th Ward could be moved over to the 7th, but that ward is oversized too, he noted.
Several of the fewer than 20 residents taking part in the virtual meeting offered suggestions when Nieuwsma opened up the meeting for comments.
With the 5th Ward under the average ward population by 705 residents, longtime resident Tina Paden argued, officials should consider taking parts of the 6th and 7th Wards and moving them into the 5th.
She said that would address the committee’s concern not to have wards that are predominantly white, as the 6th and 7th Wards are, census figures show, increasing the 5th Ward’s population.
Priscilla Giles, a longtime 5th Ward resident, advocated in favor of keeping wards intact.
“People live near where they want to live and exclude the people they don’t want,” she said. “Each ward has their historical basis.”
Carlis Sutton, another longtime resident, suggested the possibility of moving a portion of the 6th Ward from Grant Street possibly all the way to McDaniel, into the 5th Ward.
Sutton conceded “at the rate we’re going to be very difficult to balance any more with the effect of gentrification and marginalization that has occurred over the years” to Evanston‘s Black community.
However, he said moving a portion of the 6th to the 5th Ward would help the marginalization of the Fifth Ward residents.
“Also I’m looking for better services and the voting population would not be affected by adding those portions of the 7th and 6th Wards into the 5th,” he maintained.
Council member Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, suggested another possibility to reach balance – extending some of the 5th Ward into what is now the 7th ward, at Payne, Noyes and Grant Street, with a portion of the 6th Ward then moved into the 7th to balance that ward out.
Suffredin also recommended the committee exercise caution on changes to Central Street. The street, which runs east to west from the 7th to 6th Ward, includes two Special Service districts as well as a number of multi-family residential buildings, he noted.
He said the 6th-7th Ward area includes three parks that are triangle-shaped with council members from those two wards representing constituents on opposite sides — a source of confusion.
Another speaker, Carl Klein, suggested changes based on his work with Dave’s Redistricting, a website that uses demographics to allow citizens to figure out ward boundaries.
He maintained he was able to use the site to get the 6th Ward population down to 0 percent divergence from average, by dividing the 6th and 7th Wards so each one goes east-west.
A portion of the 7th Ward could then be moved into the 1st Ward.
“And by doing that the 1st Ward can gain population by gaining part of the northern half of the Northwestern campus,” he said.
The 6th, under that scenario, would take Central Street and then hook around by the city’s Civic Center, which is currently in the 5th Ward.
That way, he said, all of Central Street’s Special Service Districts are in the 7th Ward, with the 6th Ward in the southern part of the map.
Members of the Remapping Committee didn’t vote on any changes at the meeting.
The group will continue focusing on specific wards, with discussions on the 8th and 9th planned for Nov. 22, 1st and 3rd on Jan. 10, and 5th on Jan. 24.
“This will take us through January of next year,” Nieuwsma said at the meeting. He said the committee also has plans for a local engagement sessions with the African American community next year after having gone through the public engagement process.
The committee will then draft several maps — “maybe one map, maybe two, maybe three, and plan to release the proposed maps in February of next year, looking for an additional round of public comments, he said.
He said the committee then plans to recommend a final map after special municipal elections expected to take place in April.
That election will feature candidates vying to fill two open council spots in the 2nd and 9th Wards, “so we don’t want to confuse folks by redrawing the borders before that election,” he said.
At the group’s initial meeting May 10, Nieuwsma expressed hope that “we should be able to get through this relatively painlessly without too much angst.”
At the windup of the Oct. 25 meeting, he said he hoped that after the individual ward discussions, committee members would put “pen to paper, our mouses to Dave’s Redistricting, draw some maps with all this input rolling around in our brains, maybe, ideally come up with a map that’s so darn good nobody’s going to complain.”
“Probably, there’s going to be some trade offs,” Nieuwsma said. “And there are going to be a couple of different versions, maybe two or three, maybe more than what we want.”
“We don’t want to do what we did 20 years ago,” he said, referring to the last major remapping effort in which 15 maps were created by different constituencies, he said.
“We want to keep this as simple as possible,” he said.
To learn more about the committee’s efforts, visit the Redistricting Committee’s webpage.