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The process for redrawing Minneapolis’ council wards has officially started

There was one moment of drama in an otherwise orderly meeting when a commissioner noted a newly elected council member was getting redistricted out of her ward.

The task of redistricting City Council and Park Board boundaries in Minneapolis is done by the Redistricting Group, a body composed of the appointed 15-member City Charter Commission and a nine-member advisory group.
The task of redistricting City Council and Park Board boundaries in Minneapolis is done by the Redistricting Group, a body composed of the appointed 15-member City Charter Commission and a nine-member advisory group.

On Wednesday, the Minneapolis Redistricting Group started work on a draft map that will change City Council ward boundaries before the next election in 2023 and define the city’s representational maps for the next decade.

It’s a process that happens every 10 years after the Census comes out.  The goal is to readjust boundaries to ensure that the districts all have basically equal populations. After the 2020 Census, two of Minneapolis’ 13 wards are too large, while five are too small.

Under the city’s charter, wards must be within 5 percent of the average ward population, which is 33,073 according to the 2020 Census. Population isn’t the only guiding principle for the redistricting process: boundaries are supposed to be no longer than twice their width, they’re not supposed to discriminate by race, ethnicity or language spoken, and are supposed to consider “communities of interest,” which could mean not splintering a neighborhood into several wards or keeping the heart of the city’s Somali community in one ward in order to consolidate — and not dilute — representation. (You can find a breakdown of the whole process here.)

That task of redistricting City Council and Park Board boundaries in Minneapolis is done by the Redistricting Group, a body composed of the appointed 15-member City Charter Commission and a nine-member advisory group made up of Minneapolis voters.  Both Charter Commission and advisory group vote as questions come up during the process, but it will ultimately be up to the Charter Commission to ratify a map.

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What can and cannot be considered

For the most part, the meeting on Wednesday’s online meeting was a placid affair, resembling a Zoom version of a group jigsaw puzzle session as members discussed and then tested moving ward boundaries — sometimes Census block by Census block (you can watch this meeting here). But things grew tense for a moment as the group discussed the plan for Ward 4, the city’s northernmost district. Early in the process, the group moved part of the Jordan neighborhood that juts into Ward 4 into Ward 5, which group members argued would make it easier for people to connect to their council members, and better fit existing neighborhood structures.

But later, a commissioner raised an objection: “I think we need to revisit Ward 4, because I think what happened, we redistricted … Council Member-elect Vetaw out of the Fourth Ward,” Charter Commission member Andrew Kozak said, referring to LaTrisha Vetaw, who defeated sitting Council Member Phillipe Cunningham in a bid to represent Ward 4 last week. Others agreed.

“We are an appointed group as we’ve heard many times over the last year,” Kozak said. “I think if people are going to get rid of council members, it’s up to them, not up to us.”

Several others strongly objected to the notion that the group should consider council member addresses. Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg said defining wards based on council members’ addresses is gerrymandering.

“I don’t want this board to get sucked down into some discussion about where people live so that we can be drawing people’s wards for them to get re-elected,” advisory group member Veronica Cary said. “I think that’s, frankly, garbage.”

The group did not make further changes to the Ward 4 boundary in its draft map.

Moving boundaries

Another question considered by the redistricting group: should the downtown area, which currently spans multiple city wards, be consolidated into one? Some group members argued having one downtown ward would concentrate too many of the downtown area’s amenities — like stadiums and City Hall — into one ward. Others cited downtown residents’ comments about keep a community of interest together. Ultimately, the group voted 12 to 6 not to keep discussing creating one downtown ward.

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The draft map moves the part of Ward 5 south of Glenwood Avenue into Ward 7.

The current, albeit incomplete, draft map of Minneapolis city council districts.
Redistricting Group
The current, albeit incomplete, draft map of Minneapolis city council districts.
The group took up Northeast Minneapolis’ Ward 1, which may need to absorb some of its too-large neighboring wards. The draft map ultimately moves the Sheridan and Bottineau neighborhoods out of gigantic Ward 3 — covering parts of Northeast, downtown and Marcy-Holmes — into Ward 1. The group also moved the part of the Como neighborhood, where many students live and which is currently in Ward 1, into Ward 2, which is dominated by the U.

The draft map moves part of the downtown area surrounding City Hall that had been in Ward 7 into Ward 3.

Ward 2, covering the eastern part of the city from Como through the University of Minnesota campus and into Longfellow, is another one of the wards that presents challenges for the redistricting group. Specifically, the University of Minnesota and its surrounding neighborhoods cover a large swath of the city, but the ward as it exists will need to have boundaries moved to get more population into the Cedar-Riverside and South Minneapolis wards.

The draft map moves more of Dinkytown from Ward 3 to Ward 2 and puts a larger chunk of the Seward area that had been Ward 2 into the West Bank-area Ward 6. Ward 9 is expanded into the Cooper neighborhood, or the south part of what’s now Ward 2.

The group will take a first crack at the rest of the city’s wards — the ones in the southern part of the city — at a virtual meeting Friday at 4 p.m. The ward map currently in use can be found here. The draft map in progress can be found here.

“These are the first draft maps, which are at least in my view mostly intended to encourage discussion, get something out there to the population so they can see what we’re thinking about and make an educated comment about it,” Clegg said.

Up to this point, there has been little public interest in the redistricting process. Previous meetings of the group have focused on reviewing the rules of redistricting, what the Census data say and — last month — starting the Park Board ward map, practice for the main event.

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But Clegg, who has long been involved in city redistricting efforts, said last month he expects that to change now that the group is working on an actual map. Several public meetings are scheduled in the coming months before a final map is due March 29.