In light of the 2020 U.S. Census and a shift in demographics that has left imbalances in Great Bend’s four City Council wards, it was the consensus of the council Monday night to pursue redistricting.
“We do have a couple of wards where the population disbursement is a little unequal,” said City Administrator Kendal Francis in his report to the council. “Most notably, it’s the Fourth Ward because of the way the Census is now; they’re under represented as compared to the other three.”
The idea was first raised by Ward 3 Councilman Cory Urban a few meetings back. He had gotten the final Census information from County Cartographer Bj Wooding and has done extensive work on crafting new ward boundaries.
The city wards each cover one-fourth of the residents. So, the current data, if one were to divide that by four would be 3,683 per ward.
As it stands now, Ward 1 is 235 people over that number, Ward 2 is 273 people over, Ward 3 is 51 below and Ward 4 is 456 below.
“So we do have the option of trying to redistrict and rearrange the boundaries for council wards to better equalize the population within each ward,” Francis said. Based on Urban’s information, he had sent a proposal to council members via email as a starting point.
“I guess the question is tonight, is redistricting something we want to look at?” Francis said. “But, if we don’t think there’s value in pursuing it any further then we probably need to say so and just let it go as is.”
Unlike the county, where redistricting is mandated by state statutes every three years, there are no requirements for cities. City officials were unsure when it was done last, but estimated it had been decades.
“What purpose would it serve” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Natalie Towns.
“Right now, your ward Ward four is 456 people under (the average),” Urban said. “So you’re under-represented in the electorate by about 15%.”
Each ward is represented by two council members, one being elected in each election cycle. Towns is joined by Brock McPherson covering the fourth ward.
“The point of it is that as the city grows and develops and the population moves around, you have to move the lines,” Urban said. The inequity leads to a smaller pool of people available to run for office and other issues.
“I’m all for representation in my ward,” Towns said.
Based on Urban’s calculations, each of the wards could be within 20 residents of each other.
The proposed changes wouldn’t affect any city council members as of now, Mayor Cody Schmidt said. The only changes would come in the next election after the new map is adopted.
What about precincts?
Nestled inside the wards are precincts, Francis said. And they may be affected a little.
“They don’t have to be quite as balanced as the others,” Urban said. They’re more logistical and are mainly used by the county in drawing district lines and establishing polling places, and the Republican and Democratic parties.
“We don’t use them for anything since we’re nonpartisan,” Urban said. His map does shift these precinct lines some.
Francis said, even should the city redistrict, the polling places would not change since they are based on wards. The people absorbed into a new ward may have to move to a different polling place, but that would be it.
“I have to commend Cory for doing all of that work, because that was a lot of work that he went through,” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs. “And I think we should pursue that.”
“We’ll continue to look at,” Francis said. The council may schedule a work session to tackle the matter.
The issue came up during a Barton County Commission study session on Jan. 19 in response to Urban’s research. The county commissioners opted to stand pat until the city decides how it wants to handle the ward and precinct boundaries. They determined there was no point for the commission to consider doing anything with its five districts.
By state statute, counties have to redistrict every three years. This is an off year, so the county really doesn’t have to do anything now.
The commission suggested alternatives for the city, including reducing the council from two members per ward to one and changing to at-large members rather than by ward.