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Bloomington population shifts mean changes to ward boundaries

The Bloomington City Council has approved plans to redistrict its nine wards, to address population shifts over the past decade.
City of Bloomington
The Bloomington City Council has approved plans to redistrict its nine wards, to address population shifts over the past decade.

Bloomington aims to have its new ward boundaries in place this summer, a change reflecting the past decade’s population shifts.

“It’s driven by the 2020 Census,” said Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason, shortly before the Bloomington City Council voted unanimously Monday to begin the redistricting process.

Council will review proposals at its June committee meeting, and could adopt new maps in July.

City staff will use geographic information systems (GIS) to create two or three proposed maps, incorporating the Bloomington Election Commission’s current precincts. That data will be available on the city’s website, so the public also may submit new map proposals, said Jeff Jurgens, Bloomington city attorney.

Ward 7 council member Mollie Ward asked Monday why the city wants to use the GIS technology to create maps, rather than seek public input, like McLean County did in response to new Census numbers.

“Why go this route as opposed to having a communitywide discussion similar to the county’s Red, White and Blue discussion?” Ward asked.

Jurgens contended that using the technology gives council a data-based solution that is timely, and civic-minded, because it keeps election deadlines in mind.

Aiming for a July vote leaves a bit of wiggle room.

“We’ve built some time in there,” he said, meaning council could approve the new maps as early as July 11, or give itself more time.

Jurgens said the real goal is to finalize the new maps by late August — giving April 2023 municipal election candidates time to know in which ward they should campaign.

“It’s hard to believe we’re already thinking about the election in April of 2023, but that process will begin this summer,” said Jurgens.

He said candidates have a limited period to collect signatures, and then must file the petition to be put on the ballot to the Bloomington Election Commission.

Ward 1’s Jamie Mathy, who was taking part in his last meeting as a council member, told Jurgens he appreciated staff thinking along these lines.

Mathy said when he campaigned shortly after the current maps were redrawn, he sometimes had to convince people whose signatures he sought, that he was indeed campaigning in the correct ward.

Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill suggested the council hold a public hearing after the proposed maps are ready.

Population shifts put wards off balance

Although the city’s population of roughly 78,700 reflects an overall growth of just 2.5% in the past decade, within the wards some areas have seen larger margins of gains and losses.

Keeping Bloomington’s nine wards “as compact, and contiguous – and nearly as equal is practical,” is the city’s legal responsibility, according to Jurgens.

He told the council Monday, that based on the city’s population, a standard “balanced” ward should be home to about 8,742 residents. Some legal cases have allowed a 10% margin of error, he added.

However, the latest Census data show Ward 8, in southeast Bloomington, has a population that’s 25% above the median. Across town, in northwest Bloomington, Ward 7 is about 12% below.

Because those wards are far apart, the city is presented with a puzzle.

“We can’t just take a few from this ward, and put them in this other ward – they’re separated out. We’re going to have to adjust several of the wards to get that done,” said Jurgens.

Using GIS technology to draft data-driven districts, Jurgens said staff will work to keep incumbents in their current wards, ensuring each area maintains representation.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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