Courts reach out to citizens for help with redistricting

Redistricting can shift power from one party to another in the state.

Courts reach out to citizens for help with redistricting

Kevin Burbach

MinnesotaâÄôs redistricting process is moving forward, and professor and policy expert Larry Jacobs has a message for University of Minnesota students:
âÄúPut down your iPad, and pay attention,âÄù he said. âÄúThis is not an abstract idea. ItâÄôs the tinker toys of politics. The insiders have had their way and itâÄôs time for students to take a leap and have a presence.âÄù
For the first time in the stateâÄôs history, the public can add their input into the often complicated and hidden process of redrawing the stateâÄôs political boundaries. Two public hearings were held Wednesday and Thursday, and more will be held this week.
Every 10 years, after U.S. Census data is released, legislative and congressional districts in the state are redrawn to reflect population and demographic changes. ItâÄôs part of the state LegislatureâÄôs job to redraw new district lines.
Republicans in the Legislature created and passed new maps in the 2011 session. No Democrats in either the House of Representatives or Senate voted in favor of the plans.
In his May 18 veto letter, Gov. Mark Dayton cited the fact that the new districts in the plan would pit more incumbent Democrats than Republicans against one another.
âÄúThe districts in this bill are too partisan, drawn for the purpose of defeating a disproportionate amount of Democrats,âÄù Dayton wrote.
In response to his veto, the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a five-judge panel to draw new lines if the Legislature canâÄôt agree by the Feb. 21 deadline. The courts have redrawn district lines in four of the past five decades.
The same panel of judges held public hearings last week in three of MinnesotaâÄôs congressional districts and will hold five more this week. The hearings are part of a new opportunity for Minnesotans to get involved in the process that Jacobs said is âÄúusually an inside job by the political establishment.âÄù
âÄúThis is the hidden secret of democracy,âÄù Jacobs said. âÄúFor students who are alarmed and angry about the polarization and failure of St. Paul and Washington âĦ redistricting is one of the most pragmatic and important reforms to get
involved in.âÄù
Minnesotans close to the process are urging all citizens, especially University students, to get involved.
About 30 people showed up at each of the public hearings in St. Paul and Minneapolis last week, none of whom were students.
David Wheeler, project coordinator for Draw the Line Minnesota âÄî an organization to promote public input in the redistricting process âÄî said the process affects all students, even after
graduation.
âÄúThis is a 10-year decision. It will affect students while theyâÄôre in school and long after,âÄù he said. âÄúThis isnâÄôt like a one-night party where you wake up and have a hangover. This is long term. This is a 10-year hangover.âÄù
Draw the Line chairwoman Candi Walz said students are in a unique position compared to other Minnesotans.
âÄúThey have a double understanding of their metro university community, and they have an understanding of where theyâÄôre from, where they grew up,âÄù Walz said.
She said students can provide input on the differences between suburban and rural communities and the metro area on how lines should be drawn.
For others, allowing the public to work with the courts on drawing the new legislative and congressional district lines is simply powerful.
âÄúIt gives me faith in democracy,âÄù said University professor emeritus Paul Rosenblatt, who spoke at the St. Paul hearing Wednesday.
âÄúTo see all of these citizens take the time to come and help shape the way their state is run is really something to see.âÄù