PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council on Monday voted in favor of a new map redrawing the political boundaries in Providence ahead of this fall’s election.

The redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the federal census, determines in which ward residents can vote and run for office.

The vote was 11 to 1, with one abstention and two councilors absent. The new map requires a second passage by two-thirds of the council before taking effect. The second vote is expected on Thursday.

The council made several tweaks to the map from the version that came out of the Ward Boundaries Committee last month, including putting Roger Williams Park back in Ward 9 and moving Nathan Bishop Middle School back into Ward 3.

The middle school, located on Sessions Street, had been moved to Ward 2 in the committee’s version of the map to offset a domino effect caused by a census block on Benefit Street that is inaccurately listed as being home to 1,300 people.

The updated ward map approved by the City Council on Monday.

A number of Ward 3 residents, including Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, testified against moving the middle school to Ward 2, pointing out that it both serves Mount Hope students and is a polling place.

But putting the school back into the ward on Monday resulted in the removal of another sliver of the ward, near Lippitt Park.

The apparent error in the census was due to the way college students were counted as campuses shut down due to COVID right before the census count on April 1, 2020. The data essentially counts all of the Rhode Island School of Design’s on-campus students as living in that one block on Benefit Street, according to the city’s redistricting consultant, even though they were living in various dorms throughout the city.

“To imagine that many students live in that block is unheard of,” LaFortune said on the council floor prior to the vote. “You’d have to have a very large building. It doesn’t exist.”

But the incorrect number had to be used for the drawing of Providence’s boundaries, which must be completed by May 1 according to the City Charter.

The now-overstuffed Benefit Street census block had previously been located in Ward 12, but was moved to Ward 3 during the redistricting process. (Ward 12, which gained the most population over the past decade, had to shed some residents.)

“This decision has had an adverse impact on the ward,” LaFortune said, noting that the true number of residents in the ward is now lower than the rest of the city’s wards, if you subtract the 1,300 counted on Benefit Street.

She thanked the council for adding Nathan Bishop back in, but ultimately voted against the map. LaFortune is running for mayor this fall rather than seeking re-election to the council.

The Providence NAACP was among those that submitted testimony asking for changes to Ward 3, writing that the residents of Mount Hope, a historically Black neighborhood, “have battled the gerrymandering of their beloved community.”

Jessica Cigna, the chair of the Ward Boundaries Committee, responded in testimony of her own. Cigna noted that Nathan Bishop is actually in the Blackstone neighborhood, not Mount Hope, but nonetheless the committee detailed the issue with Nathan Bishop in their final report, asking the council to amend the map.

She also rejected claims of gerrymandering.

“This is an unfortunate accusation and could not be further from the truth,” Cigna wrote. “The committee held all its meetings in public, held five public hearings and accepted testimony for over a year.”

This was the first time the redistricting committee was chaired by a civilian, rather than a councilperson. Cigna wrote that she attended every meeting between councilors and the mapmaking consultant, Election Data Services, in an effort to prevent lines being drawn to benefit or hurt any candidates.

“At no time were changes to boundaries for political gain nor to hurt any particular group of votes or any neighborhood,” Cigna wrote.

There was no further discussion about other areas of the map on the council floor. But Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, the finance chair, abstained from the vote.

Asked afterwards why she didn’t vote, Ryan said she felt the process was rushed and did not involve enough public input.

“I think the process needs to be more open, more transparent and a greater period of time,” Ryan said.

While the Ward Boundaries Committee started meeting in 2021 and held five public hearings this year, there was only one week in between when the first draft proposal came out and when the committee approved a final map.

Ryan noted many of her constituents south of Chalkstone Avenue were unaware they were being moved into another ward.

“When I told them they would likely be cut out, they didn’t know,” Ryan said. “That says to me there wasn’t enough efforts to reach out to the community.”

She said she personally stayed out of the process.

All of the incumbents appear to remain in their existing wards under the new map. Former City Councilman Terry Hassett, who plans to run for council this fall, was also moved back into Ward 12 under the council’s version of map.

Hassett’s home on Higgins Avenue had been moved into Ward 5 in the committee’s recommended version of the map. Reached by phone, Hassett said he was aware of the back-and-forth with his address, but insisted he had not asked any of his former council colleagues to put him back in Ward 12.

Council spokesperson Parker Gavigan said candidate’s addresses were not taken into account when drawing the lines. The council’s final report explaining the map says the change was made to bring Ward 5 back to its existing boundary at Roger Williams Medical Center, and put Nathanael Greene Middle School back in Ward 12.

Hassett, who represented Ward 12 on the council from 1997 to 2019, failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot for re-election in 2018, but told 12 News he intends to run again this fall.

Ward 12 Councilwoman Kat Kerwin, who was elected in 2018, said she is pleased with the new map. She had advocated to remove the section of Benefit Street from Ward 12, since the ward needed to shrink anyway.

“The interests of Benefit Street and College Hill are just so opposed in every way to the interests of Smith Hill,” Kerwin said in a phone call Monday night. She said she has not yet decided if she will run for re-election this fall.

Prior to being sent over the council, the Ward Boundaries Committee met 10 times in 2022, including five public hearings, and crafted multiple draft maps. The committee heard testimony from people seeking to keep downtown whole — it would have been split in some of the proposals — and move a school into Ward 6, which didn’t have one before. A number of boundaries also had to change in order to make sure each ward has roughly the same number of people, plus or minus 5%.

“This is a historical process in Providence city government, a once in a decade task that falls directly on all our shoulders,” Council President John Igliozzi said in a statement after Monday’s vote.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank my council colleagues and staff, commend the ward boundaries committee for their incredibly hard work, and let city residents know just how important their input was over these many months,” he said. “Your voices mattered. The map you see tonight is the result of true collaboration, everyone coming together for the common good of our unique neighborhoods.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.