The four City Council members on Evanston’s Redistricting Committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to start redrawing the city’s ward boundaries.
The vote came after Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings told them that under state law the city’s population had not changed enough to require redistricting. (It would have had to drop below 70,000 or reach more than 90,000 to trigger that rule.)
But, Cummings added, the city’s population has shifted enough during the past decade so that under federal one-man-one-vote principles the city could face legal challenges if it does not redraw its map.
That’s because the population growth of 3,624 residents since the 2010 census has not been evenly distributed across the city.
Divide the 78,110 people in town counted by the 2020 U.S. Census evenly, and each of the city’s nine wards would have 8,679 residents.
Federal court rulings suggest that the deviation of voting districts from the average should ideally be less than 5% in either direction — or a total range of 10%.
And the chair of the redistricting committee, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), said courts have overturned maps that had a total deviation range of as little as 16.4%
The total population deviation of Evanston’s current ward boundaries, he said, is 20.4%.
It ranges from 11.7% more people than average in the 3rd Ward, to 8.7% fewer people than average in the 9th Ward.
Other wards with big variances include the 5th Ward, at 8.1% below average population, the 1st Ward at 6.8% below average and the 2nd Ward at 5.0% above average.
Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested that the variation between the 2nd and 5th wards could easily be adjusted by redrawing those two boundaries.
And Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) suggested shifting a few blocks at the northern end of her ward to the 1st Ward to reduce the disparity there.
But perhaps foreshadowing other conflicts over the map that may lie ahead, when Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested that his ward should be extended to the lakefront to give the lakefront “a ward with more ethnic diversity,” Wynne said, “Devon, I’m going to fight you on that.”
She argued that the south end of the 3rd Ward is a cohesive neighborhood and that there would be “a lot of community pushback” to any suggestion it should be assigned to a different ward.
The committee agreed that the City Council should not adopt a new map until after the special election for 9th Ward alderperson in April 2023 and started to lay plans for two town hall meetings in July — including one held primarily in Spanish — to seek public input on the plans.
Wynne, the only alder who was on the City Council at the time of the last redistricting, after the 2000 census, said new technology, like the Dave’s Redistricting website that Nieuwsma had used to calculate the population variations by ward, should make it much easier to develop new maps now than it was two decades ago.
Nieuwsma said he anticipated that a hybrid online meeting option — not used for the committee’s first meeting — would be available for committee meetings starting with the next session, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28.