Column: Sandboxing some possible new Bloomington city council districts

Based on the results of the 2020 census, the populations of Bloomington’s six current city council districts are way out of kilter.

There’s no question that some city council district boundary adjustments will need to be made, before the next municipal elections are held in 2023. The changes could be significant.

Legally speaking, resetting the Bloomington city council district boundaries is a task that does not have to be completed until the end of 2022.

But for any potential candidate in the 2023 city council elections, it would be less than ideal if a city council decision on new district boundaries came late in 2022.

Why is it not possible to go ahead and get started?

The official work can’t start immediately, because a nine-member redistricting commission—which was created last year by the city council to make recommendations—has not yet been appointed by the city council. The ordinance establishing the commission called for it to be formed starting Jan. 1, 2021.

The logic behind the early formation of the city council redistricting commission was to give the city redistricting commission a chance to influence decisions made by the Monroe County commissioners about precinct boundaries.

But the county-level reprecincting and redistricting work is already set for approval this week, before the city’s redistricting commission has been appointed. County commissioners are set to vote  this Wednesday on the recommendations of a four-person committee.

The upside is that the dynamic mapping tool, which was created by Monroe County GIS staff to aid a four-person commission in its work, has been left publicly accessible.

That means there’s enough publicly available information that rank and file residents could go ahead and start having a try at cobbling together the collections of precincts that define each of the six city council districts.

The dynamic mapping tool does not have a great deal of whiz-bang convenient functionality. But it includes enough to help someone understand how tedious it is to pull together even a single batch of contiguous precincts that have a total population of about 13,194. That’s Bloomington’s 2020 census figure (79,168) divided by 6.

The tool includes a layer showing population numbers for all the precincts, a boundary layer for the city of Bloomington, so you can orient yourself, and a selection tool that will automatically add together the population of the precincts you have selected.

Once you’ve got a district you like, you can make a layer out of it, and save the information to your own computer.

Of the two selection tools, the select-by-line tool is the most useful one to pick from the drop down menu. The select-by-box tool does not allow you to select with much precision the precincts you want.

A word of caution about the “line” in the select-by-line tool: If the line crosses a non-city precinct, it will go ahead and grab that precinct, too, because the tool was set up for the county. Be ready to just clear what you’ve got and try again.

First draft: Some potential new districts that meet the 10-percent guideline

With the aid of the precinct selection tool,  The B Square was able to assemble six new city council districts that are roughly balanced, based on the 10-percent ‘variance’ that is used as a guideline. The calculation uses the formula:

[Max(district pop.) Min(district pop.)] / Average(district pops.)

Ideally, the result of that formula should be no greater than 10 percent.

District 2020 Census Population for Possible District Boundaries 2020 Census Population for Current District Boundaries
District 1 13,015 15,379
District 2 13,817 12,985
District 3 13,046 12,746
District 4 13,545 13,223
District 5 12,858 14,057
District 6 12,892 10,783
(MAX–MIN)/AVG 7.27% 34.83%

For this exercise, the basic principles driving the boundary choices were: (1) try to maintain the integrity of Indiana University’s campus; (2) try to respect the township boundary between Bloomington and Perry townships, which is 3rd Street.

Note: Annexations by Bloomington, assuming they are successful, would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, after the next city elections. So this exercise does not include any annexation territory.

To be clear, this is not a “proposal” for the shapes of the new city council districts. It’s just the first one that The B Square was able to ratchet under the 10-percent threshold, after bashing around for a couple of hours.

Good luck with your redistricting work, if you decide to wade into the numbers at this early stage!

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