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Minneapolis redistricting group quickly discovers intricacies of ward boundaries

The group has only three weeks to produce preliminary ward boundaries.

The 24 people who will re-draw ward boundaries in Minneapolis got their first look at the software Wednesday evening and quickly discovered that trying to fix a problem in one ward can create a problem in the one next door.

They have only three weeks to produce preliminary ward boundaries before the maps will be ready for public comment at hearings Feb. 29 and March 1.

Their challenge is to create 13 wards with each one containing 29,429 people (plus or minus 5 percent) without breaking up neighborhoods, ethnic groups or racial minorities.  They also must meet requirements about the length and width of a ward — designed to prevent gerrymandering.

Wednesday’s session produced “good direction for putting together a draft,” said Barry Clegg, chair of the Charter Commission and Redistricting Group, after the work session.  It was “as good as you can get when there are 24 people.”

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At the meeting, a map proposal presented by the Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting received several favorable comments. The committee represents immigrants from Somalia and East Africa, and its plan is designed to create at least three wards in the center of the city where there would be the likelihood that a racial minority could be elected.

The Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting proposal, right, and the current ward boundaries, left.
Source: City of Minneapolis
The Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting proposal, right, and the current ward boundaries, left.

As the session started, Clegg announced that the evening’s challenge was offering input that the smaller Operations Committee could use to fine-tune ward boundaries.

“Changing those [boundaries] is going to change adjacent wards so a lot of wards are going to change,” said Clegg. With that perspective, they got to work.

Here’s a sample of the group’s focus Wednesday night:

Ward 2

This ward — which currently includes the University of Minnesota, Cedar-Riverside and neighborhoods to the south and east of the U — is the one the Somalia and East African communities believe is the most likely to elect a member of a racial minority. 

But as the group moved the ward boundaries to the west, as suggested by the Citizens Committee, they found it produced a white majority instead of the African-American majority in the Citizens Committee map. 

“They listened to us, but we feel that what they need to do is tweak the edges,” said Abdulkadiar Warsame, who spoke for the Citizens Committee.  “They need to be braver.  Take bolder steps.”

Ward 3

The current ward follows the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis and then crosses the river into north Minneapolis. Those north Minneapolis neighborhood got chopped by the group, sending one to Ward 4 and another to Ward 5.

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To make up for that population loss, Ward 3 would become the new U of M ward and move east to pick up the old Ward 2 neighborhoods to the north and east of the University.

Ward 4

This ward, in the city’s far northeastern corner, It would gain one of the Ward 3 neighborhoods along the river. Committee Member Terra Cole liked that idea. She lives in the area that is now part of Ward 3 and feels cut off from the rest of north Minneapolis.

Ward 5

This ward has lost 2,720 residents, the most of any in the city.  It’s also the only ward where half of the voting-age population is African-American. The ward abuts the north loop, which is in the city’s fastest-growing ward, which needs to shed population.

But putting the north loop in Ward 5 adds more white voters to the profile. A move to add the area west of downtown to Ward 5 didn’t fix the problem, so the Committee considered taking the north loop out.

“I’m fourth-generation north Minneapolis and the Fifth Ward,” said Natonia Johnson, who opposed removing the north loop even if it diluted the numbers of African-Americans. “There’s a lot of business that gets out of the Ward 5. Let’s leave some economic viability.”

“You’ve got to have an economic balance here,” agreed commission member Todd Ferrara, who has a business in the north loop. Without those businesses in Ward 5, he added, “we’re creating more of a poverty ward and a burden for the council member who serves there.”

Ward 6 and Ward 7

The debate about what to do with the downtown ward focused on whether the area should be all in one ward or split among several. At one time, downtown was purposely split up because it was the only area for bars in the city and the potential for corruption was thought to be too great if there was only one council member.

“I personally believe the best way to represent that region is by two or three people,” said Ferrara. A show of hands revealed that all but two of the commission members agreed, but most said they wanted to take a look at both options.

Next, the Operations Committee will draw preliminary lines, based on the evening’s discussion. When the Redistricting Group meets next Wednesday, it will review that work and move on to other wards.

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Mark your calendar

Public hearings on the first draft of Minneapolis ward maps will be:
• Feb. 29 at Weber Commons
• March 1 at Hosmer Library
Times have not been set yet.