Ward lines to be redrawn - Census shows growth in south, west

Grand Forks Herald (ND) - Thursday, December 1, 2011
Author: Christopher Bjorke; Herald Staff Writer

Grand Forks' 52,887 people are spreading south and west, meaning that ward boundaries will have to move with them, a process city officials are starting to work on. 

"Definitely, our growth is in Ward 6," said Ryan Brooks of the Grand Forks Planning and Zoning Department, referring to the city's southwest ward. "It's roughly 2,000 people over what our mean should be." Brooks and staff in his office are preparing options for redrawing the lines of the city's seven wards and will present them to the City Council's three-member redistricting committee at 4 p.m. today at City Hall. 

The committee's job will be to figure out how to set the borders between the wards so each contains roughly 7,500 people. Areas around the edges of populous wards such as Ward 6, population 9,508, will be eaten up by less populous neighbors, such as Ward 4, population 6,789 or Ward 7, population 6,976. 

In the committee are Council members Doug Christensen, Ward 5; Curt Kreun, Ward 7; and Dana Sande, Ward 6. All are from the city's south end. 

Guidelines set Redistricting is necessary after every 10-year Census to keep ensure equal representation in each ward. 

The process can be a contentious undertaking. At times it has been misused for political purposes through manipulation of borders to include or exclude groups based on their demographics and how they vote, a practice is known as gerrymandering. 

The result of that history is a list of Supreme Court cases that established some guidance for redistricting that Brooks used in his own planning. Top among his criteria are that wards should be compact and contiguous. 

The process will also attempt to keep neighborhoods together and keep incumbent council members within the wards they represent, but those are lower priorities, he said. 

"One of the criteria and one of the last ones is to try to keep everyone within their ward boundaries," he said. "We can probably tick through our whole criteria and not have that be any issue." Effect on council "There are a lot of us who could potentially be affected," according to Sande, who said several council members live near ward boundaries. 

Kreun said the committee members would try to keep the wards compact and not manipulate the borders for political purposes. 

"Are we going to draw slivers? No, that's not practical," he said. 

Council member Tyrone Grandstrand said he wanted a committee of non-council members to set the ward boundaries and remove the possibility of council members using the process for political purposes. 

"It's more about setting up a process so it can't be taken advantage of," he said. 

Committee members want to wrap up the process by January so potential candidates for city council will know which wards they live in when they prepare for city elections in June. 

Balancing act Along with the other criteria planners are juggling, they also have to consider state legislative districts, which were just redrawn in November's special session of the Legislature. 

Brooks said that his goal is to keep local wards from straddling state district boundaries and creating voting precincts with only a handful of residents. 

He expects borders to shift in the area where Wards 6, 7, 4 and 5 meet, near the intersection of South Washington Street and 24th Avenue South. That part of town is densely populated, so small adjustments of the boundaries can create large population shifts. 

Brooks wants the ward populations to stay within a range of 7,177 and 7,933 people, a deviation of 4 percent above or below the target of 7,555 people. 

The wards on the north and east sides of town are shrinking in part because they are dominated by single-family homes and people are living in smaller households, Brooks said. They also have little room to grow as they are bounded by the river and industrial areas to the north. 

Brooks wants to have more people in the shrinking wards so they do not fall as far behind the growing wards as population centers continue to change. 

"Since this is going to be for 10 years, we want to make those areas bigger," he said.