Every 10 years there is a U.S. census which in turn requires that each state review the boundaries of its congressional districts, state senatorial districts, and legislative representative districts to see that they are configured so as to preserve the concept of one-person, one-vote.
And so we begin to accumulate newly redrawn maps of Minnesota’s political districts. The House redistricting committee under Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) has produced a map, as has the Senate redistricting committee under Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks).
If the Minnesota Legislature cannot agree on one map by Feb. 15, 2022, the redistricting will be decided by the Minnesota courts — as it has been since the 1970s. Convinced that the Legislature is incapable of doing its job, redistricting expert Peter Wattson requested in 2021 that the courts draw the new district lines. He submitted a suggested map of his own.
Other maps submitted to the five-judge redistricting panel that the Minnesota Supreme Court created are the Anderson Republican map, the Sachs DFL map, and the Corrie map that emphasizes Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
Challenged as to why so many entities are creating proposed redistricting maps when it is almost inevitable in Minnesota that the courts will end up doing the redrawing of district lines, Wattson said that essentially all the map drawers are trying to offer up to the five-judge panel “testimony” maps that may influence the final decisions of the judges on the panel.
The League of Minnesota Cities notes that Feb. 15 is simply the date the Legislature concedes it cannot agree on a map. The judges’ version might not be finalized until March 26.
Murphy emphasizes that in the last 10 years, significant growth and shifts in population have occurred. Hence her committee’s reliance on numerous listening sessions throughout the state.
Even in Wattson’s nonpartisan map, incumbents are sometimes put in the same new district. That map puts Eden Prairie’s DFL State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski in the same new district with Melisa Franzen, the Senate’s DFL minority leader. The same map also puts DFL Rep. Laurie Pryor in the same legislative district as DFL Rep. Patty Acomb.
Concerning new legislative mapping, Fox 9 reported: “House Republicans said their research showed the DFL had paired 36 incumbents together, meaning 18 districts would have an open seat without an incumbent.” The report did not specify a party breakdown of those pairings or open seats.
Murphy emphasizes that people drawing new maps usually do not know where incumbents live. District 48B Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-Eden Prairie) notes that most maps are drawn “without a flag on where incumbents live.”
Kotyza-Witthuhn concedes that redistricting standards dictate that representatives do not pick their voters but rather the constituents pick their representatives.
Cwodzinski acknowledges that incumbents should not expect special deference in drawing district lines.
“Elected officials do not get to choose their constituents,” he said.
Do labels like “rural” and “urban” assist or defeat conscientious redistricting? Pryor notes that urban centers such as St. Cloud, Rochester, and Duluth are located in rural Minnesota.
Murphy says that there are urban-thinking people “all over the state.” For his part, Wattson argues that “the battleground is the suburbs.”
The Star Tribune reported that Senate Republican Redistricting Chair Johnson said that the Senate redistricting map does not split as many counties, cities and towns as does the House redistricting map.
Cwodzinski says that there has been a major effort this year not to divide Indigenous nations.
Cwodzinski said that no district should exist as a given for any candidate or party: districts should achieve the traditional goal of being “competitive.”
Pryor sees redistricting as “rebalancing” a district “so that people do not lose faith in the system.” Cwodzinski goes so far as to say that if districts are as competitive as possible and if there is no redistricting discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, “voters will feel that their vote counts.”
Should redistricting consider which businesses are in a district? Wattson feels it is important to note if a district’s main business is farming, high tech, or medical.
Murphy believes redistricting officials should consider a district’s businesses, nonprofits, and veterans’ organizations.
Kotyza-Witthuhn notes that businesses do have an impact, but at the same time “corporations are not people.” Pryor says, “People vote, not corporations.”
Pryor created bills that attempted to establish an independent redistricting commission separate from the Legislature to have a truly nonpartisan redistricting process. Cwodzinski also supports the idea of an independent redistricting commission, not unlike this year’s five-judge panel.
The legal standards for redistricting by the Legislature are many: equal population in each type of district, compactness, geographical features, “communities of interest,” protection of minority voting strength, and balanced treatment of incumbents.
Meanwhile, the courts have traditionally limited themselves to two requirements: equal population and some fairness for minorities. While the goal of the Corrie (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) map is admirable, Pryor does have some concern that such a focus limits the redistricting process to just one dominant standard.
One standard or many. Eyes on tradition or eyes toward the future. The intricate process of redistricting is going full bore. The suspense will be over in the next several weeks.