Volume 41, Issue 2 (2023)
By Hannah Stephan*
Since the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census, states and cities around the country have begun the process of redistricting. On the tail of a heated municipal election season, redistricting in Minneapolis is especially noteworthy as residents are preparing for a re-do of the City Council election two years from now. Though City Council members are typically elected for four-year terms, the upcoming redistricting process means that the recently elected members will serve for only two years before another race to represent the newly-drawn districts in 2023. The final map, which is due on March 29, 2022, must be “as equal in population as practicable,” and in no event more than five percent different from the mean number of residents per ward. Minneapolis has thirteen wards. Currently, Ward 2 and Ward 3—which include Downtown Minneapolis, much of the University of Minnesota campus, and surrounding areas—are too large, while several South Minneapolis wards are too small.
The ward redistricting process, which follows the Census every ten years, is performed by the City of Minneapolis Redistricting Group, comprised of the Minneapolis Charter Commission and an advisory group appointed by the Commission. The advisory group is made up of eligible Minneapolis voters who have not held elected office, run for elected office, or worked for the City of Minneapolis or any political party in the two years prior to appointment. The Charter Commission appoints these individuals. In terms of process, the Redistricting Group has certain recommended principles and guidelines to follow; but only the requirements in Article II, § 2.2 and § 2.3 of the Minneapolis City Charter are mandatory. In Minnesota generally, redistricting is governed primarily by Minnesota Statutes § 204B.135, which outlines the timing for the process, and Minnesota Statutes § 205.84, which describes boundary and population guidelines.
The redistricting process as a whole provides an interesting look at how Minneapolis and other cities can use redistricting to focus on creating more equitable outcomes for the city as a whole. Though Minneapolis will likely not see many changes in the upcoming redistricting process, especially since one of the Redistricting Group’s mandates is to minimize changes, some of the few changes in Minneapolis could be significant. For example, one proposed map draws newly-elected Ward 4 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw’s residence out of her ward and Ward 5 Council Jeremiah Ellison out of his. The map’s proposed changes to Wards 2 and 3 also have implications for the high-impact Downtown and University communities. Given these considerations, there are certain changes that Minneapolis could make to more meaningfully incorporate public feedback and prioritize equity in its redistricting process.
A map of current Minneapolis wards from the City of Minneapolis.
Defining Equity in the Redistricting Process
It is critical for redistricting groups to meaningfully consider equity to make sure that historically underrepresented communities do not continue to have their voices erased or diluted. Speaking about the statewide redistricting process, Common Cause Minnesota Executive Director Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera said, “[f]or far too long, Black, Indigenous and Minnesotans of color have had their political power diluted in the redistricting process . . . many do not benefit from equitable electoral power or a fair opportunity to elect candidates with shared interests who are going to take up those issues . . . unique to these communities . . ..”
At the state level, the organizations Common Cause Minnesota, OneMN.org, and Voices for Racial Justice have sued to ensure better representation for communities of color in Minnesota’s redistricting process. According to these organizations, “approximately 85 percent of Minnesota’s population growth between 2010 and 2019 can be attributed to communities of color,” so the state should pay special attention to the representation needs of these communities as it redraws maps. The same perspective should be applied at the city level as Minneapolis officials consider new wards.
Fair Census Counts are Critical to Equitable Redistricting
We are already too late if Minneapolis only starts thinking about equity during the redistricting process. Since the redistricting process is preceded by the U.S. Census, ensuring that Minneapolis has thoroughly and accurately counted its residents is critical to making sure that the districts ultimately appropriately reflect who actually lives in the city.
Though Minnesota made headlines when it unexpectedly kept its eighth House of Representatives seat, and was reported as having the highest Census response rate of any state, there have been historical problems with undercounting certain communities in Minnesota; specifically, “people of color, [I]ndigenous people, undocumented immigrants, and low-income persons.” The areas in Hennepin County with the lowest response rates correspond with areas that have a higher percentage of residents who are part of the above-mentioned groups. This undercounting leads to less of an opportunity for fair representation for these communities, which can impact everything from transportation funding to rent control.
The reasons for this undercounting cannot be attributed to one factor, but fewer in-person door-knocking campaigns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the chilling effect on immigrant communities due to a proposed citizenship question were thought to be aggravating factors in the 2020 Census specifically. Going forward, Minnesota should not be short-sighted or complacent with our relatively high rates of Census completion. Census officials should prioritize counting underrepresented communities and work with community organizations like UnidosMN and the League of Women Voters to leverage existing programming meant to meaningfully reach these communities.
Minneapolis Should Implement Community-Led Redistricting Strategies
Communities of interest, which are groups of people seen as having similar views and concerns, are meant to be considered by officials when redistricting an area so that power among these groups is not diluted. To best serve its purported equity goals and to create Minneapolis wards that best serve the representation needs of Minneapolis residents, Minneapolis should seek to include more citizen voices in the redistricting process with a specific focus on defining communities of interest. This is an approach emphasized by local advocacy organizations in Minneapolis, and there are several out-of-state examples of strategies that could prove effective.
In California, two community organizations established a set of “equity indicators,” such as housing cost burden and English proficiency, which are meant to enhance conversations around defining and setting communities of interest. Using data to thoughtfully consider key equity indicators is a logical goal for decision makers because there is no firm definition of what qualifies as a community of interest. Similarly, in Michigan, the newly-formed Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission seeks to promote racial equity in redistricting at all levels of government using communities of interest as a main tool by defining and uplifting communities which have been historically left out of redistricting conversations.
City officials and Minneapolis residents have an opportunity to meaningfully incorporate our understanding of communities of interest to help form wards which prioritize electing representatives that better reflect Minneapolis communities. By prioritizing community voices and investing in strategies to provide adequate power to historically underrepresented areas, Minneapolis can fulfill its reputation for strong civic engagement in a more meaningful and equitable way. Interested residents can impact the process by speaking at a meeting, submitting a map, or submitting public comment.
*Hannah Stephan, University of Minnesota Law School Class of 2022, JLI Vol. 40 Lead Online Editor