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Updated: New city council maps narrowly pass committee with claims that county 'strong-armed' city

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New city maps narrowly pass committee with concern that county 'strong-armed' city

La Crosse County Supervisor Margaret Larson and a staff member discuss drafts of new county supervisory maps in September, 2021. City officials have issued concerns that the county's maps unfairly positioned the city, whose new mapse unseat three incumbents.

The Judiciary & Administration Committee approved the resolution on a 4-3 vote, two of those opposing votes coming from council members who would be displaced by the new maps.

The resolution specifically is set to approve and adopt the new aldermanic, or city council, district boundaries. The city’s new voting wards, which make up aldermanic districts, were approved last month and cannot be changed at this point, officials said.

The city’s new proposed maps mirror those already drawn by La Crosse County, keeping the county supervisory districts “coterminous” with the city’s aldermanic districts, or sharing the same boundary. This helps eliminate voters going to multiple polling places for different elections, a top priority of officials leading the redistricting process.

La Crosse Common Council member Chris Kahlow

Kahlow

City officials have stated they aren’t “in love” with the current maps, but found they were a compromise given the condensed timeline caused by late census data amid the pandemic.

Council member Chris Kahlow, who is one of three members who would be moved out of their existing districts with the new maps, voted against the resolution saying the county implemented unfair guidelines for the city.

“I don’t feel that the city Redistricting Committee had enough time, and were somewhat strong-armed into making a decision that maybe we weren’t all comfortable with,” Kahlow said.

“We really didn’t have a choice,” she said. “We really had to go along with the county.”

Kahlow called to keep the aldermanic district boundaries as they currently are, and said she plans to speak at a public hearing held by the county next Monday, Nov. 8, about the new maps.

Council member Mackenzie Mindel, who served on the Redistricting Committee, reissued a sentiment that the new maps were the best compromise in a tough situation.

The committee struggled for some time with the idea of choosing between coterminous lines and unseating colleagues, ultimately deciding that voter accessibility and less confusion was most important.

“I wish I could vote against this, but I personally feel like I am unable to,” Mindel said.

Mackenzie Mindel

Mackenzie Mindel, La Crosse Common Council District 8

“This proposed plan does unseat three incumbents, which none of us are excited about, but it is the lowest criteria for redistricting. So I just want to make sure that the public knows that, that we can’t make decisions based on unseating incumbents even if we wanted to,” she said.

City staff said it worked with the county to work out new maps that wouldn’t alter aldermanic districts so much, but stated that none fit under the county’s self-imposed standard deviation — a percentage of how populations differ from district to district. State and federal regulations allow for up to 10% of a difference, but the county aimed for a lower 2%, staff said.

Mindel said other options “truly were worse.”

“In a lot of ways, we were kind of forced to do, to try and accept the boundaries that were given,” said senior city planner Tim Acklin.

“But just given the shortened time frame, due to the requirements the county has set upon themselves for deviation, and just due to what the rules are on population restrictions and amounts and wards and everything else,” he said, “there was a variety of factors that had worked into it.”

In a La Crosse County Executive Committee meeting Wednesday morning, county clerk Ginny Dankmeyer defended the county’s deviation standards, saying they fit with the county’s priority of “one person, one vote.”

“You can have up to a 10% deviation, but our number one guideline was ‘one person, one vote.’ To get ‘one person, one vote’ you want 0% deviation. So yes, we’re going to go with the map that provides 2% deviation because that’s the closest,” Dankmeyer said.

This map shows the difference between existing La Crosse aldermanic districts and the boundaries of the La Crosse County redistricting map. The city is likely to match its districts to the county's in order to limit voter confusion, shifting every district in some way and displacing three incumbents.

Kahlow stated that keeping the current aldermanic district map would cause the least confusion for voters.

“I believe there were several maps that could have been recommended to the city of La Crosse, and the map that we was given, I don’t feel was the best map to suit the voters,” Kahlow said.

During the county’s redistricting process, supervisor Ralph Geary pitched to keep the city’s districts the same, with council member and supervisor Andrea Richmond in support, saying it would cause “a lot less confusion for voters.” The move failed on a tie vote.

“I just hope that we could stick with the current city maps, not confuse everyone, and just let the county know that we wish that they would have put some of the concerns of city of La Cross residents ahead of a 2% deviation,” Kahlow said.

Dankmeyer said on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be possible to keep the same maps as they were regardless because of population growth in certain areas.

County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer

Dankmeyer

“You can’t keep the same aldermanic districts and wards that you have now because right around District 8 there’s an influx in population,” she said. “So you’re forced to move that population around, which forces you to change the next ward, the next ward and the next ward. So to say we want to keep the same as what you have now isn’t even possible because your deviation wouldn’t work.”

“We can’t keep the districts the same forever because we can’t control the population increase or decrease on any given block,” Mindel said on Tuesday.

Mayor Mitch Reynolds was not so quick to put the blame on the county during the J&A meeting.

“I peg it directly on the federal government and the length of time that it took to complete the census, and whoever was in charge of that in 2020. That is where I would put that blame, personally,” he said.

“This is what we’re stuck with, and you can certainly vote against this, but I would strongly recommend against it,” Reynolds said.

Mitch Reynolds

Mitch Reynolds, La Crosse mayor

Kahlow was joined by council member Justice Weaver, who would also be displaced by these new maps, and council member Scott Neumeister in opposing the redistricting plan, though neither spoke on the issue.

Council members Mindel, Chris Woodard, Andrea Richmond and Jennifer Trost voted in favor. Trost is the third council member who faces being moved out of their district.

The new maps alter the boundaries of all 13 aldermanic districts in some way, some more drastically than others. In the north, District 2 would now split Districts 1 and 3, reaching across the city to Copeland Park, and in the south, the border between Districts 10 and 11 will shift, as examples of the types of changes that could be made.

The La Crosse Common Council will take a final vote on the aldermanic district map next Thursday, where it could deny the map and potentially redrawn, but it would come at the expense of not remaining coterminous with the county, which is set to adopt its new maps next Monday after its public hearing.

The Common Council’s decision would not have an effect on the county’s maps, and county officials said it had “reconciled” any issues with municipalities and the proposed maps.

The city’s aldermanic districts would still need to be reworked using the new ward map that has already been approved, officials said, limiting how much the boundaries could be adjusted or risking complicating voting access even more.

This story was updated at 11 a.m., Nov. 3 to clarify the redistricting process and include new comments from La Crosse County officials.

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