Calls for Change in How Minnesota Draws Districts Leading up to 2020 Census

With the 2020 census right around the corner, there is talk about how Minnesota will redraw its State and U. S. Congressional districts; a task completed every 10 years following the completion of the census.

Redistricting our state is mandated by The Constitution of the State of Minnesota, and is described in a one four-sentence paragraph:

Sec. 3. Census enumeration apportionment; congressional and legislative district boundaries; senate districts. At its first session after each enumeration of the inhabitants of this state made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall have the power to prescribe the bounds of congressional and legislative districts. Senators shall be chosen by single districts of convenient contiguous territory. No representative district shall be divided in the formation of a senate district. The senate districts shall be numbered in a regular series.

Under current law, redistricting is tasked to state legislators, giving the power to draw the lines to those elected to represent us; but the lack of specifications on how that should be done has opened the door to the practice of gerrymandering. Many believe this must change, and some lawmakers in St. Paul have authored bills this session to do just that. At least four bills have been authored to offer solutions to the problems of redistricting. Most bills call for turning the job over to an independent commission and establishing principles to be followed when the lines are drawn. At least two are asking to amend the Minnesota Constitution.

HF 1855, authored by Rep. Jennifer Schultz, District 7A, calls for an independent commission to be made up of five retired judges who have not served in party positions and 12 public members who are not deeply engaged in partisan politics. Four of the judges are to be appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the house and senate and the fifth is chosen by the four appointed judges. It is unclear how the 12 public members will be chosen. The bill states, “The public members must be appointed in a manner provided by law.” HF 1855 also contains principles under which district lines must be drawn, outlining details that are meant to prevent gerrymandering.

A different bill, SF 2255, authored by Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, District 30, calls to establish a four person commission to complete redistricting. The members of this commission are to be appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the house and senate, and to be compensated for their service. Kiffmeyer’s bill prohibits current or former judges from serving, does not require neutrality, is not as strong on member accountability, and does not allow public members beyond the four appointed members to serve on the commission. It also contains fewer restrictions on how the lines are to be drawn in order to prevent gerrymandering.

Both bills require amending the Minnesota Constitution and should be considered carefully. Questions must be answered, such as:

  1. How do we insure the commission is neutral and truly representative of the people?

  2. With a four member commission (SF 2255), what happens when there is not a three-fourths vote on a plan proposal?

  3. What is the total estimated cost of the commission to taxpayers?

  4. What are the unforeseen issues that could hold up the process?

  5. Are the principles complete in that gerrymandering is truly prohibited?

  6. With the power of redistricting in the hands of an independent commission, how do we insure principles will be followed, and how do we hold a member accountable if principles are not followed?

Other bills, SF 1018 and SF 1605, are similar to HF 1855 and also call for the commission to be made up (at least in part) by retired judges. Both of these bills propose to change law but do not require an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

If no bill is passed at the Capitol, redistricting after the 2020 Census will be completed according to current law. The majority party, if there is one in both the House and Senate, will have the final say on the next Minnesota State District and U. S. Congressional maps.