by Dennis Dalman
Every 10 years in the United States, a series of mapping-earthquakes shakes all of the 50 states, rearranging the boundary lines of Congressional and Legislative districts – the way actual earthquakes can change landscape features.
That process, called “redistricting,” is meant to be a way to ensure fair political representation, based on population shifts within districts. Those population shifts are revealed by data from the U.S. Census, which counts the nation’s population every decade. The latest redistricting becomes law on Aug. 14 of this year.
After the recent announcement of the new districts, Congressional Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Stillwater) woke up one day to discover she no longer lives in the 6th Congressional District, where she had been elected every two years since 2007. Bachmann’s Stillwater residence, after redistricting, is now in the 4th Congressional District. However, she plans to run again for the District 6 seat because, under Minnesota law, one does not have to live within the district one represents. The 6th District includes part of the eastern Twin Cities area and all or part of Wright, Anoka, Washington, Benton, Stearns and Sherburne counties.
Another local elected official, Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) also woke up to find herself in a newly formed district. Fischbach was elected five consecutive times, since 1996, as the state senator for District 14, but she is now in District 13, which still retains the lion’s share of the areas of Fischbach’s fromer District 14, including parts of Stearns and Benton counties and the cities of St. Joseph and Sartell, among others. Rockville is now part of District 13. Fischbach is the only incumbent in the new Senate District 13. She has recently filed for re-election.
Some newly formed districts are more problematic, however. In some new districts, incumbents will have to run against each other – all told, 46 incumbents. They include Democrats having to face off against Democrats, Republicans against Republicans and Democrats against Republicans.
Here in central Minnesota, redistricting did not create such problematic situations. The area is still mostly within the Sixth Congressional District. The area is mainly within Senate District 14, and House Districts 14A and 14B were not radically changed, either. Currently, those who represent this area are Bachmann and, in the State Legislature, Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville, Senate District 14, although, as stated above, she is now in District 13), Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell, House District 14A) and Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph, House District 14B).
State senators are elected every four years, except during years that end in “0,” the years that begin a new decade. In those years, senators on the ballot are elected for two years. State representatives are elected every two years.
Redistricting does not affect Congressional senators because every state elects two senators, statewide, to serve in the U.S. Congress. The number of U.S. Congressional representatives for each state is based on population. Minnesota has eight such districts. Redistricting can affect the number of legislators. A loss of population in some areas can decrease the number of districts, usually by just one; and population increases can increase the number of districts within a state. This year, there was a bit of trepidation that Minnesota would lose a Congressional district, making the state’s number of Congressional districts and representatives seven instead of eight.
However, that result did not occur.
To understand redistricting, it is helpful to understand the lay-out of political districts within the state. Minnesota has eight Congressional Districts from which representatives, such as Bachmann, are elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. In addition, Minnesota has 67 state senate districts, from which senators are elected to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. Each of those 67 Senate districts is divided into two Legislative Districts – 134 all told – from which representatives are elected to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. Thus, there are a total of 201 men and women serving in the Minnesota Legislature – 67 senators, 134 representatives.
In addition to boundary changes of districts, redistricting – by changing borders – can also place city voting wards, commissioner districts and school-board representatives in different jurisdictions, and adjustments must be made in some cases.
As politicians have long been aware throughout history, redistricting can have a definite effect on elections, one way or another. In fact, the redistricting process has led, now and then, to a highly contentious tug of war between political parties, with accusations of favoritism and underhanded methods to stretch and twist district boundaries to favor one party over another.
The act of drawing voting districts unfairly is called “gerrymandering.”
Legislators could not agree on final redistricting boundaries, and so the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a judicial panel to come up with a plan. Some in both parties have criticized the new borders, while others have said the final plan is about as fair as redistricting can be.
The average number of people in a Senate Legislative District in the United States is 73,425. The average number in a Legislative House District is 36,713. The basis for redistricting stems from Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution in which the document’s creators mentioned how Congressional representatives are to be chosen.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.