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Redistricting needs reform

Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. The district shape was likened to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a blend of that word and Governor Gerry's last name. (Wikipedia)

The recent election has created a lot of interest in election reform and I have heard about that from many of my constituents. Reform at the national level is a worthwhile goal, but here in Minnesota we have the chance to institute reforms that may be just as important.

The process used to draw new congressional and state legislative district boundaries is called redistricting. All of Minnesota's U.S. Representatives and state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. Every decade, following a new national census, district lines are redrawn nationwide. Federal law requires that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that redistricting must not dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minority groups, either intentionally or as an unintended outcome.

Redistricting is a highly contentious process and has led to gerrymandering, the process of drawing district lines that are favorable to a political party, individual or constituency, sometimes resulting in odd-shaped districts.

Besides favoring one political party, redistricting can be used to protect incumbents of both parties and thus discourage new candidates from running for office. Redistricting can lead to increased polarization, with fewer moderates entering races in districts with less diversity of opinions. In addition, redistricting can lead to uncompetitive elections, which may lead to lower voter participation.

In Minnesota, both congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn by the state legislature. In recent redistricting cycles, the Minnesota Supreme Court has been forced to appoint a panel of judges to draw the final congressional district lines as a result of divided government and lack of agreement between legislative and executive branches.

In other states, including Wisconsin, partisan redistricting has led to the redistricting results being declared unconstitutional by the courts. In 2012, Wisconsin Republicans won 60 of 99 Assembly seats even though Democrats won a majority of the statewide votes cast for Assembly, resulting in a case that overturned the redistricting. Similar results have occurred in many other states.

In the last legislative session, I introduced a bill to reform the redistricting process in Minnesota and remove it from politics. House File 1336 establishes an independent commission comprised of five retired judges who have not served in a party-designated or party-endorsed position. The Minnesota majority and minority Senate leaders, the Speaker of the House and the minority House leader each would appoint one judge, with efforts to attain geographic balance. The four appointed judges would select a fifth judge. The commission is required to hold at least three public hearings about redistricting across the state.

The principles to guide redistricting, as stated in the bill, include equal population, compactness, minority representation, preservation of political subdivisions (county, city, town should not be divided into more than one district except as necessary to meet equal population requirement), preservation of communities of interest and creating political competitiveness. Both former Republican Governor Arne Carlson and former Democrat Vice President Walter Mondale supported appointing a commission of judges for redistricting and there was considerable other bipartisan support. Unfortunately, in the last legislative session the bill was not given a legislative committee hearing in the House.

I urge citizens to contact legislators to ask that they pass this or similar reform of redistricting to encourage fair results and improve our democracy. In addition, we need to realize that the Governor of Minnesota elected in 2018 will oversee the legislative redistricting process after the 2020 census. Your vote for governor will count in many important ways, so please participate and VOTE.

Jennifer Schultz

Rep. Jennifer Schultz DFL-Duluth represents District 7A in the Minnesota House. She can be reached at (651) 296-2228.

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