The Ann Arbor City Council passed an ordinance Monday evening that proposes reapportionment of the City’s five wards based on the updated 2020 census population counts.  

Each newly drawn ward will have approximately 25,000 residents, reducing the size of Wards 1 and 2 while increasing the other three. The change would likely be most dramatic for Wards 4 and 5, which would move to include more of the downtown area.  

As with all districts, the new wards must be compact and contiguous with roughly equal populations. The ordinance aims to also minimize the impact on residents.  

Census data is often imperfect as it leaves out difficult-to-reach groups who do not fill out the form or speak to volunteers. For this reason, minority groups, those facing housing insecurity, and immigrants are typically underrepresented in official population metrics. 

Adam Goodman, resident of Ann Arbor’s 5th Ward, spoke in opposition to the ordinance and said the current ‘pie-shaped’ ward distribution disenfranchises University of Michigan students’ voices. With the current precinct map, campus populations are spread into several different wards instead of congregated into one. 

Goodman said with the new ordinance, the Council would be maintaining the current state of affairs and not addressing the City’s needs. 

“I think it’s long past time that Ann Arbor had a serious conversation about whether our ward boundaries are actually serving the needs of our community in ensuring equitable representation on Council,” Goodman said. “It seems like we’ve missed out on opportunities to do that, and instead, we’re proceeding as we often do with the assumption that we should simply maintain the status quo.” 

Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, acknowledged Goodman’s comments and said others had similar concerns regarding the pie-shape requirement. Griswold said she hopes that there’s an ongoing effort to make changes to this requirement in the future.

“There are students and others who are interested in changing the charter to take out the requirement to have those pie-shaped wedges,” Griswold said. “While this is not the time to do it, in the future we can talk about that and actually have some action to look at the charter.”

Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, said he was unsure if the pie-shape requirement broke up the voice of University students or unfairly represented the downtown area. 

“I’m not super critical of this restructuring, I understand the balancing, I know it’s going to be rapidly out of date as construction continues unabated here in Ward 1,” Hayner said. “Ten years from now, it’s going to change again, and there’s nothing stopping us as far as I know from having a conversation prior to that and reapportioning these wards.”

The ordinance recommends the reapportionment changes be made on Dec. 1, 2021, one month after the City’s Nov. 2 Special Election. Voters who are affected by the changes will be informed of their new ward and polling place before it takes effect in the 2022 election cycle, the ordinance reads.

Redistricting processes have also been discussed at the state level. Michigan citizens voted to amend the state’s constitution in 2018 to reduce gerrymandering and changed the state’s redistricting process. The new process created the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, a group of randomly selected citizens who hold public meetings and will eventually draw the updated statewide maps. 

The MICRC held a meeting in the Michigan Union in September 2021 to hear from University students about their thoughts on the process as a community of interest.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, LSA senior Greta Kruse, co-chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said students are underrepresented in the state’s current districts. 

“I came to speak to the commission today because I wanted to emphasize the importance (of) partisan fairness when drawing the new regional districts,” Kruse said. “And moreover, it is no small thing to me that I feel like my vote is not going anywhere.” 

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