By: Cullen Enabnit
Minnesota’s heated legislative redistricting process is starting to ramp up. After being delayed due to the pandemic, the US Census data is beginning to be sifted through in the great state of Minnesota. While other states like Texas and New York have released proposed plans for how their reimagined districts should look, Minnesota is working in a split government and will have to take more time to draw their maps.
In terms of the fight state legislators are about to face, there is reason for relief and reason for concern. The major headline for Minnesota’s eight House Representatives was that the state was able to maintain all of its Congressional seats by a tight margin. If this number were to have changed, the difficult task of redistricting would have become even harder as the existing map would have needed to be reimagined from the ground up. While this feared situation did not come to pass, Minnesota lawmakers are still facing a challenge that does not have history on their side. Minnesota has not drawn legislative boundaries without court intervention a single time in 140 years. In fact, for at least the last 20 years, and maybe even the last 50 years, the courts have ended up drawing the final lines when the legislature failed to draw a bipartisan map.
This year appears to be headed down a similar path as the State Senate is GOP controlled and the House is in control of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL), Minnesota’s version of the Democratic party. The Minnesota legislative session does not open until January 31, 2022, which leaves some months for state legislators to draw prospective maps. Regardless of the past hard work it’s taken to get an end result, there still remains optimism in the minds of some lawmakers. In September of 2021, Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said that all things considered Minnesota hadn’t done too badly with the court drawn maps and that “Minnesota in general has ended up with a pretty good product. They’ve looked pretty reasonable compared to other states”. This could be seen as optimistic for the coming bipartisan work necessary to pass a map, or that perhaps it’s for the best that the state courts end up being the final authority every time.
Minnesota has also seen an influx of people into its largest metro area. The metro area consists of Hennepin and Ramsey County, which house the Twin Cities, and the 11 surrounding suburban counties. In all, Minnesota’s metro area contains roughly 60 percent of the state’s entire population. In order to create equal districts it is likely that the surrounding rural districts will have to be decreased and reapportioned to the metro as there are now significantly more people living in the metro than in rural counties compared to the last time the maps were drawn. This represents a big boon for state senate Democrats who will likely see the biggest electoral benefit from this change as the metro counties have reliably voted for Democrats in the past. An increase in Democrats will likely bring them closer to the majority where they are only a few seats away. It seems like rural state senate Republicans will be in for a tough challenge as they fight to maintain not only their majority through legislative redistricting, but their seats of power themselves. All of this will likely lead to increased rhetoric and fighting as the developed urban centers face off again with farming and rural communities.
Speaking of smaller communities, a problem that is not unique to Minnesota is also gaining attention. Minnesota papers are reporting on the tough logistics that certain counties and communities hold for redistricting. These “split districts” have seen truly head scratching lines be drawn that split driveways, graveyards and sub 100 person communities. Over a dozen communities were split in the 2011 map and this has presented great difficulties for these groups. Small counties like Webster Township have sometimes been forced to duplicate many municipal election jobs and have cost the local government a lot of money to establish multiple polling places and special ballot printing sometimes for only two voters. It’s easy for small locales like this to be overlooked as districts are aimed to be apportioned within the standard deviation, but hopefully as few towns and communities will be split as possible as this interesting and decade-long debate begins to spin its wheels again.