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A look at one of the biggest issues affecting the Minneapolis City Council election. (The 2023 election.)

Whoever wins council seats this November, they’ll only hold them for two years, when new elections will be held with newly drawn ward boundaries. The process of redrawing those boundaries is already underway.

In Minneapolis, ward boundaries may see some significant changes; growth in some parts of the city far surpassed growth in others.
In Minneapolis, ward boundaries may see some significant changes; growth in some parts of the city far surpassed growth in others.

This fall, Minneapolitans are voting to choose 13 City Council members.

If you’re a Minneapolis resident, you probably already know this: you have probably been the recipient of lots of campaign flyers; have probably been visited by candidates or campaign volunteers asking for your vote and have probably seen a lawn sign here or there.

And, in two years, the city will do it all over again.

That’s because of the so-called “Kahn Rule,” championed by former Minneapolis State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who sponsored a bill — now law — that means that Minneapolis Council Member will have to run again in 2023, soon after new ward boundaries are drawn. The goal is to make sure that newly drawn districts are quickly represented by an elected official, rather than inheriting an official elected by a ward with different boundaries.

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That means that, even while the current council election captures the city’s attention, the redistricting process — which is already underway — may have an even bigger impact on the future of the council.

Shifting population

The 2020 Census wrapped up its counting phase last fall. This year, the Census Bureau released the data, which is used to redraw voting districts — everything from U.S. House districts down to city council wards.

In Minneapolis, ward boundaries may see some significant changes; growth in some parts of the city far surpassed growth in others. The city’s charter requires wards to be within 5 percent of the average ward size, 33,073 as of the 2020 Census. But as currently drawn, the wards range in size from 28,311 (Ward 8 in central South Minneapolis) to 43,692 for Ward 3 (parts of downtown, Northeast and Marcy-Holmes). Wards with populations under the average will have to get bigger geographically so that they include more people, while wards with higher-than-average populations will have to get smaller.

Minneapolis City Council wards
City of Minneapolis
Minneapolis City Council wards
Minneapolis City Council Ward populations, 2020
Source: Census data, compiled by the City of Minneapolis

Altogether, two of the current wards are too big, and five wards are too small. Most of the wards that are now too small are in the southern part of the city, while the wards too large in population are central and east. Because of the magnitude of the population differences — and their geographic distribution — some sizable changes are likely in store for the ward map, said Minneapolis Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg.

“It’s going to have to take people away from downtown and the east side and sort of slide those populations south into the different wards, to bring them up to adequate population levels,” Clegg said.

Making a map

In Minneapolis, the redistricting process is being undertaken by the city’s Charter Commission, the 15-member appointed commission chaired by Clegg, working alongside a nine-member advisory group made up of Minneapolis voters appointed by the Charter Commission. In addition to redrawing City Council wards, the group also draws new Park Board districts.

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During the process, both charter commission members and advisory group members have the power to vote on preliminary maps, Clegg said. But ultimately, only the charter commission has the authority to approve the final map.

Redistricting isn’t just a matter of drawing wards of equal size, though. Ward boundaries are supposed to be no longer than two times longer than they are wide (that means a hypothetical rectangular ward that’s one mile wide can’t be more than two miles long). They are not supposed to  discriminate by race, ethnicity or spoken language. They are, however, supposed to consider “communities of interest” when drawing the lines. That could mean grouping Black or Latino Minneapolitans or college students into a ward together rather than splitting them into multiple, separate wards.

In an email, Kayseh Magan, a member of the redistricting advisory group, underscored the importance of making sure communities of interest are represented in the process.

“The first Somali American was elected here in Minneapolis because the East African community chose to take part in the redistricting process ten years ago,” he said (Comments from members of the advisory group reflect only their personal views and not the views of redistricting group).

Abdi Warsame was the first Somali American elected to the Minneapolis City Council after Ward 6 boundaries were redrawn around the East African Cedar-Riverside community in 2012. Ward 6 has been represented by people of East African descent since.

On the flip side, there have been instances where residents have felt that redistricting has disadvantaged their community. Jonathan Kim, a member of the redistricting advisory group recalled reading a Minnesota Daily column that argued the 2012 boundaries diluted University of Minnesota students’ political voice by splitting the student population between four wards.

Questions of community are not always clear cut — and sometimes depend on who you ask, Kim said. For example: Middlebrook Hall is the only University of Minnesota dormitory located on the school’s West Bank. Should Middlebrook’s community of interest consider its geography or who lives there?

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Getting involved

The redistricting group’s meetings are public, and the group is required to hold several public hearings. For now, the meetings are being held remotely (a calendar can be found here), but Clegg said meetings may be held in person down the line if the city of Minneapolis starts holding in-person meetings.

The first draft map is expected to be available in the coming weeks. The final map is due on March 29. Ultimately, the map decided upon will dictate city council boundaries for 10 years, starting in 2023.

Anyone who wants to participate in the process is encouraged to attend public hearings. Members of the public can also use the Districtr tool to draw their own map and submit it to the redistricting group for consideration. An video explaining how to use the Districtr tool can be found here.

Magan said it’s important for citizens to participate to make sure input from communities across the city is included in the process, because the Charter Commission’s demographics are not reflective of the city. “This is why it is important for residents to take part in the process and have their voices heard,” he said.

Kim echoed Magan’s comments. He said his view of success for the redistricting process would mean having a cross section of the city involved in the process.

“I certainly am one citizen who lives in one part of the city. But I think the best way to maximize people’s feelings towards [the map] is to make sure that we have as much participation from as many communities from across the city as possible,” he said.