The Cities Blog

Redistricting game about as fun as it sounds

Ever wanted to gerrymander Minneapolis? Now's your chance.

The good-government group Common Cause Minnesota is encouraging members of the public to redraw the city's ward boundaries using specialized online mapping software.

The object of the game is to ensure each ward has the same number of residents based on the 2010 census. If you like jigsaw puzzles, it might even be fun for you. Or then again, maybe not.

After several frustrating attempts, I called up Mike Dean, who's in charge of the state Common Cause chapter, and he walked me through it. The current map is on the left. Mine's on the right. Can you tell the difference?

Confused? I was too. There's a lot of information displayed there. The yellow lines are what you're actually adjusting -- the ward boundaries. The checker board of black, white and gray represents census tracts. The brown-tinted wards on the left-hand map have too many people in them right now. The blue-tinted ones have too few.

So you basically have to shrink wards two and seven, which include the U of M, downtown and neighborhoods to the west of it. They've gained population over the last decade. And you have to grow wards four, five and six, which have a smaller share of the population now. Those wards include north Minneapolis, plus Whittier and some neighborhoods south of the 94/35W intersection.

I'll admit I learned a lot going through the exercise, but I also had an expert to hold my hand. Plus, I got to do it on company time.

I had a harder time picturing many members of the general public slogging through the process. I'm not sure most people even care whether they end up in Ward 2 or Ward 6.

"They should," Dean said. "Part of the problem is that redistricting for decades has been done in the back room. Because of that, there's not much understanding of how it works or why it matters."

Dean acknowledges that the mapping program can be a little clunky. But he hopes those bugs will be worked out by the time the 2022 redistricting process comes around.

In other cartography news...

The Minneapolis Charter Commission will draft a final map by mid-March, with draft proposals and opportunities for public comment between now and then. A court will decide state legislative and congressional district maps in late February.

St. Paul finished redrawing its wards last year. Its population shifts were much smaller than those in Minneapolis, and the process was largely uncontroversial. But city political maps can certainly be contentious. Ten years ago, the Minneapolis redistricting process resulted in a lawsuit.