Cuyahoga County Districting Process Underway, Public Meetings Next Week

The exterior of Cuyahoga County's headquarters in Downtown Cleveland
Meetings to go over the proposed maps will take place at Cuyahoga County headquarters in Downtown Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Updated: 3:45 p.m., Friday, Aug. 20, 2021

New district maps for Cuyahoga County Council are under development as members of the Districting Commission consider how best to accommodate population changes found in the 2020 Census.

Preliminary maps will be presented during public meetings next week, according to the current timeline. Those maps will then be reworked and redrawn based on feedback from the public and county officials, said Muller Public Strategies President Michael Muller. The consulting firm is one of three hired to assist the county with drawing new district maps.

“I’m expecting we’re going to be drawing many iterations during this compressed time period,” Muller said. “There’s the old saying, ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ When it comes to redistricting, perfect matters.”

The compressed timeline for development is due to the delayed release of data from the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau typically releases that data in April of the year following the census, leaving plenty of time for developing maps before Cuyahoga County’s Sept. 1 deadline. This year, though, the findings were not available until Aug. 12.

Developing the maps is a process, Muller said, and a variety of factors must be considered. That includes population numbers, distribution of racial minorities and maintaining neighborhoods or communities. Last time, he said, the commission considered eight different options.

“In a dream scenario, the first map, everyone will say we’ve done a great job and it’s perfect,” Muller said. “But I’ve been through processes with our team here before, and the idea of us drawing half a dozen maps over the course of a week and every time we go through it, winding up making some adjustments here and there, probably that’s a realistic expectation.”

Districts in the center of Cleveland and inner-ring suburbs are currently below the desired population level. [Cuyahoga County Districting Commission]

Districting criteria prohibits either packing or diluting African American and Hispanic residents in each district, said TargetSmart Lead Strategic Consultant Matt Cassidy, and they must not split precincts. Each district needs to have roughly the same population, he said, with a deviation rate decided on by the districting committee.

That deviation was set at 5 percent above or below an ideal population of roughly 116,374 residents last time the county went through the districting process, Cassidy said. But the ideal population number is now around 115,000 due to population loss, putting four districts outside of the desired deviation rate.

Those areas are District 1, District 6, District 8 and District 10, according to county analysis. Districts 8 and 10 are areas with a high population of African American residents.

“You look at the numbers and you think, oh, these are packed, if you look at the African American percentage of a district or the Hispanic population of a district, thus trying to remove them from other districts,” Cassidy said. “But other times, they just live in geographically compact areas and you’ll see this effect of sort of natural sorting of the populations.”

A map of Cuyahoga County showing distribution of African American populations in different districts.

Many of the districts that are below the desired population level align with areas where there is a high African American population. [Cuyahoga County Districting Commission]

Changing districts to be closer to the standard can create a waterfall effect, Cassidy said, where bringing more residents into one results in another losing too many. The deviation rate can be changed based on the new data, he said.

Meetings to collect feedback from residents were originally planned to take place in different areas of the county in order to diversify the voices being heard. But due to recent heightened concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Destinee Henton with R Strategy Group said, those meetings will likely take place at Cuyahoga County’s headquarters in Downtown Cleveland, though the five-member commission — appointed by county council — operates independently of council and the county executive.

Planners couldn’t find a location that was able to accommodate the meetings while maintaining current safety precautions, Henton said, and many didn’t have the livestreaming capabilities needed to allow virtual attendance.

“Some actually said, ‘Yes, we can have that meeting.’ And then after further consideration with their teams, decided that it wouldn’t be the best thing as far as COVID,” Henton said.

Residents can provide feedback on the proposed designs on three dates: Aug. 23, from 3 to 5 p.m.; Aug. 25, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; and Aug. 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. The meetings will be streamed, Henton said. A county official confirmed that the headquarters can accommodate crowds and maintain healthy distancing, if needed.

 

An earlier version of this story stated county council was responsible for voting on new district maps. The Districting Commmission, appointed by council, is responsible and acts independently of county council and the county executive.

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