With the city up for redistricting this year, some ward lines are set to be redrawn and the boundaries of the underpopulated Fifth Ward will have to change. That discussion was the focus of a joint Fifth Ward and Redistricting Committee meeting Thursday, Jan. 26.

Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns Credit: Richard Cahan

“I’m viewing this a lot from a lens of representation, because that’s what political ward maps fundamentally are about,” said Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward.

Joining Burns were Council Members Jonathan Nieuwsma and Krissie Harris, from the Fourth and Second wards respectively.

The city relies on population data from the decennial U.S. Census to draw its ward boundaries. This is the first time in 20 years there will be local redistricting, because the city decided against redrawing ward maps in 2010, said Nieuwsma, who chairs the Redistricting Committee. The core question, he said, is how to make the Fifth Ward geographically bigger.

A city map shows ward and city populations per the 2020 Census.

According to the 2020 Census, the Third Ward’s population is 11.7% more than the average ward, while the Ninth Ward is undersized by 8.7%. So the population difference between the largest and smallest ward is 20.4%. Under case law, it should be less than 10%.

Meanwhile, the Fifth Ward is undersized by 705 people, or 8.1%, Nieuwsma said.

Evanston’s demographics are shifting. In the 2010 Census, the city’s population was counted as 74,486, with a racial and ethnic makeup that was 65.6% white; 18.1% Black; 9% Latino or Hispanic (who can be of any race); 8.6% Asian; 3.8% Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or some other race; and 3.8% who responded they were of more than one race.

In the 2020 Census, Evanston’s population grew to 78,110, measured as 59.1% white; 16.1% Black; 11.2% Hispanic or Latino; 9.9% Asian; 5.2% Native American or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or some other race; and 9.8% who were of more than one race.

The city currently has three nonwhite-majority wards – the Second, Fifth and Eighth – and the Redistricting Committee hopes to maintain that number.

“We want the populations to be as equal as possible, we want the wards to be as compact as possible, and we also have to have wards be contiguous,” Nieuwsma said.

While the state timeline for deciding on new borders is November 2024, the committee is targeting a city council approval by April of this year, he said. Community members at the meeting asked about the parameters and impact of redistricting.

Property owner Tina Paden questioned what effect redistricting would have on Fifth Ward schools. Burns responded the city’s ward boundaries would not affect the school system.

The Thursday meeting was the last redistricting public forum before the committee draws up maps, which are expected to be released for discussion in March.

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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. The two most important things the redistricting committee needs to prioritize are equality in population among the wards and compactness. The Supreme Court asserted in recent cases that the Voting Rights Act DOES NOT require a numerical majority of minority voters in a particular district. All that is required is that redistricting not diminish the ability of minority groups to vote for their “candidate of their choice.”

    The use of the concept “majority-minority” is insulting as it assumes: a) everyone from a single minority ethnic/racial group has the same political interests and b) that all minority groups share the same interests. The first assumption is also the basis of racist and xenophobic stereotyping and the second point is also essentializing and pigeonholes diverse people into a single category.

    Evanston has a long history of electing people from different ethnic/racial backgrounds in all of the Wards. Locally, you can look at Lorainne Morton’s long tenure and her support in every ward in the city as evidence.

    In the last mayoral election, every “minority-majority” ward OVERWHELMINGLY voted for Biss over the African-American candidate. He earned 71% of the vote and the African-American candidate earned only 13%. In fact, both Biss and Keenan (the two “non-minority” candidates) beat the African-American candidate when you aggregate the votes from the “minority-majority” wards.

    In the Clerk election, Mendoza beat the “non-minority” candidate in every ward overwhelmingly. In the 5th ward, her spread was only 1% higher than her city-wide total.

    In the 2017 clerk election you had two “minority” candidates and no “majority” candidates running for a city-wide seat.

    Going outside the “minority-majority” wards, you can look at the 9th ward to see a minority woman crushing a white man in 2017 and then running unopposed in 2021.

    Currently this “non-minority-majority” ward is seeing a contest between two ethnic minorities.

    In our last city-wide District 65 school board election, two of the top vote-getters were representatives of “minority” groups as was the top vote-getter in the District 202 election.

    In last year’s only contested primary election for Governor that had a “minority” candidate, the three “minority-majority” wards voted overwhelmingly for non-minority candidates over the “minority” candidate.

    In last year’s election, the African-American candidates for Cook County President & Cook County clerk won in every ward over non-minority candidates as did our Cook County Board member who also represents an ethnic minority.

    At the state level, minority candidates for Attorney General and Comptroller crushed non-minority candidates in Evanston. The same occurred with the US Senate seat which pitted an ethnic minority against a non-minority candidate.

    Given all of the evidence we have over years of minority wards voting for non-minorty candidates in elections and non-minority wards voting for minority candidates, it is crazy that the council is obsessed with this idea that ward boundaries need to be ‘minority-majority.’

    Voters have shown that they are quite able to vote for candidates of their choice (the Supreme Court standard) in a variety of elections over many years.

    Compactness is much more meaningful. Look at the ridiculous shape of the 2nd ward right now. Both the Hilton Garden Inn downtown and Sam’s Club are in the same Ward. That makes absolutely no sense.

    The populations of the Second and fifth wards are higher than the city average diluting the power of their votes. Mitigating THAT inequity should be the priority along with prioritizing compact ward boundaries so they have some sense of neigborhoodness.

    The “minority-majority” thing is both problematic in terms of its essentializing nature and unneeded given the fact that evidence suggests voters are not significantly motivated by racial identification with candidates.