Census, redistricting questions are hidden election issues

Mike KnaakEditorial, Election 2018, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

The future of Minnesota’s representation in the next decade will be decided with this fall’s elections and with decisions being made now about how Census 2020 will be conducted.

How many members of Congress Minnesota will have and how their districts will be drawn will be determined by the census. The decennial count also affects drawing boundaries for other elected offices too, such as the legislature and county and city government.

The key census issue, should there be a citizenship question, is being debated now. Who draws the lines for congressional and legislative districts will be decided by which party controls the governor’s office and the legislation.

Although these issues are not on the ballot this fall, they will be decided by who gets elected.

Republicans have proposed a citizenship question on the census form. That question hasn’t been asked since 1950 when it was followed by a question asking if the person was naturalized. The census is supposed to be a head count….how many people live here…not a count of citizens. The count is used to determine many government policies and funding as well as the number of congressional seats.

Because of national population growth and shifts, Minnesota is in danger of losing one of its eight congressional seats. There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states.

Opponents of the citizenship question also assert it might scare off legal immigrants and new citizens who are distrustful of government. That’s a very legitimate fear considering Donald Trump’s deportation obsession.

The first of six potential lawsuits about the citizenship question is scheduled to start Nov. 5 in New York, the day before the general election. Three other cases are scheduled for January. With expected appeals, the legal battle could run right up to census time.

The citizenship question should not be on the 2020 form.

Closely linked to the census is redistricting. Based on the head count, governments draw boundaries for representation.

In Minnesota, the state legislature has constitutional responsibility for redistricting congressional districts, as well as Minnesota Senate and House districts. Local governments are responsible for redistricting other election districts. Those lines are drawn based on census data which shows how many people live where.

The Supreme Court set down rules for interpreting the provisions on redistricting: equal population; contiguous and compact districts; no attempts to either congregate or divide minority groups; and keeping cities, towns and communities of interest together.

Under the Minnesota Constitution and past practices, the state Legislature — which in reality means the party in the majority — gets to decide where the lines are drawn. If there is partisan advantage to be taken, the majority party will take it. When power is divided, as it was during the last two census cycles, the court has had to step in and play mapmaker.

The website fivethirtyeight.com offers a look at what Minnesota’s districts would look like without overt political interference. 

In a perfect world, the lines would be drawn so no party has an unfair advantage. Several cases challenging district maps that unfairly favor one party or the other have reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The problem would be solved by each state appointing a bipartisan commission to draw the lines.

In a less-than-perfect world, if control of the governor’s office and the legislature is split between parties, we’d end up with a bipartisan or judicial solution.

When you vote this fall, you are voting for more than candidates. You’re voting for how Minnesota will be governed for the next decade.

Author: Mike Knaak

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