After more than nine months of meetings, Evanston’s Redistricting Committee is nearing the stage of producing one or more new maps to rebalance the boundaries of the city’s ward to equalize their population.

So far, in a series of ward-level meetings, the committee has focused on potential minor tweaks to boundary lines without addressing the one of the key goals established by the state legislature for the redistricting process — that wards be compact in shape.

This political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale, published in March 1812 in the Boston Centinel, satirized the bizarre shape of the new South Essex state senate district created to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry. Federalist newspaper editors likened the shape to a salamander, giving rise to the term “gerrymander” for irregularly shaped districts created for political advantage that is still used today. (Wikipedia)

Drawing odd-shaped district boundaries for anticipated electoral advantage has long been a political sport — gaining the popular name “gerrymandering” more than two centuries ago.

Evanston’s current ward map — while hardly featuring a full-blown gerrymander critter — scores poorly for compactness — getting just 50 of a possible 100 points for compactness in an online computer model used for drawing redistricting maps.

Evanston current ward map, adopted after the 2000 census.

Compact districts also typically mean voters in a ward are more likely to have shared interests and will face shorter travel distances to their polling places — although compactness alone doesn’t guarantee that.

In a test to see whether a more compact map could be devised that would also meet other redistricting goals, Evanston Now experimented with the computer program and came up with several alternative maps.

Here’s one of them.

A potential new — much more compact — ward map.

This example map scores 89 of the possible 100 points for compactness.

And while the existing map has wards differing in population by more than 20.41%, the example map has a population variation of just 1.88%

The existing map has three majority-minority wards with minority population levels that range from 59.52% to 67.50%

The example map has four majority-minority wards with minority population levels that range from 52.13% to 64.76%.

Creation of majority-minority districts has been seen as a key way to assure that minorities are able to win representation on governing bodies. However, at the federal level there are signs that voters increasingly are willing to cross racial lines in deciding who to vote for.

The example map meets the committee’s goal of keeping the homes of all incumbent alderpersons within the wards they currently represent.

And, while the existing ward map has three alders representing portions of downtown Evanston, the example map increases that to four alders.

It also largely maintains the practice of using prominent geographic boundaries — like the railroad tracks, the north shore channel and major streets — to form some ward boundaries.

Of course there are many other potential ways to achieve similar redistricting goals, and it will be interesting to see what the Redistricting Committee actually comes up with.

Any readers inclined to experiment with drawing their own ward boundary maps can sign up for a free account to use the Dave’s Redistricting software that was used in preparing this story.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The downtown should either be divided up between all 9 wards, or have a special voting structure, so that the economic engine of the City is not in the hands of one Alderman. This is the case with the 4th Ward, which is in the hands of an alderman who is an ideologue and not a balanced listener. Businesses have reached out to their Alderman and have, for all practical purposes been ignored.

  2. I am very glad the last post was written. The city just drafted laws about fair work hours. What about fair working conditions for entrepreneurs? You say you love the feel of small shops and encourage people to Shop Local, but the conditions for working in Evanston are disastrous. The city has created a hostile work environment by importing homeless people who camp in front of my business, are drunk at 10, and harass people who want to shop. What about the working conditions of the business owners? Please zone the downtown outside of the jurisdiction of one person who disregards the feedback of business community. We cannot survive like this and many of us are looking at plan Bs.

  3. Wow, great article! It shows how straight-forward Redistricting can be.

    Instead, the Redistricting Committee, led by Council Member Nieuwsma, has spent 9 months working on a nonexistent problem that was raised by once again, Council Member Reid.

    Mayor Biss and Council Members, please develop the backbone, courage, and wisdom to fend off Reid and his many, ridiculous, and fabricated proposals. Without this, you are continuing to drag the majority of residents and our city down.

  4. Nieuwsma is very skilled at taking a problem and, not only complicating the problem more, but dividing the stake holders and encouraging vitriol. He should be the last person to be in charge of this.

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