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6 things to know about redistricting in Rochester and Olmsted County

City and county officials are working together to increase communication ahead of next year's efforts to redefine election boundaries.

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Rochester Wards and Precincts. Contributed / City of Rochester
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It’ll be at least four months until Minnesota cities start remapping their ward boundaries and another month or two before counties follow in the once-in-a-decade work, but Olmsted County and Rochester officials are preparing to answer questions as they are raised.

While the city and county are required to establish separate redistricting processes, they have joined forces in communication efforts, with the launch of two websites -- https://tinyurl.com/d52aw895 and https://tinyurl.com/k3abcum6 -- and plans for listening sessions in the upcoming months.

“Redistricting is an important part of our democracy,” Rochester City Administrator Alison Zelms said. “Being able to work collaboratively with the county to best serve our community reflects our strong commitment to this process. We encourage our residents to utilize the materials available to understand the local redistricting process and to participate in engagement opportunities in the coming months.”

Here’s a few things to know about redistricting.

1. Redistricting is driven by documented population changes

The 2020 Census revealed Olmsted County added 18,599 people and Rochester grew by 13,183 people since 2010.

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The U.S. Constitution requires election districts and wards hold similar populations, so every 10 years, states, counties and cities, as well as other entities, are required to redraw maps if the districts no longer balance.

“This once in a decade process helps ensure our elected officials are fairly representing geographies that have seen a change in population,” Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch said.

2. The state comes first

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to redraw legislative districts by Feb. 15, but if lawmakers fail to meet the deadline, the courts can impose a plan until the Legislature reaches an agreement.

Once the new state lines are drawn, cities can start to work on ward boundaries, with a March 29 deadline.

Counties and other bodies, such as school districts and townships, follow, with an April 26 deadline established to allow time for potential candidates to determine how to file for office.

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Timeline

3. Ideal Rochester ward size is now 20,233 people

With six city wards, Rochester’s new census numbers show they’ve grown by 5.9% to 24.7% since the current boundaries were drawn.

It means the population of Ward 6 is 1,250 people below the ideal size, while Ward 1 has 1,784 extra residents.

4. Population changes will spur new county elections, but not all city elections

A state 5% rule requires a new election if a district has a population change of 5% or more, which Welsch said is expected to happen in all seven county districts.

Minnesota’s largest cities with staggered four-year terms, however, are not bound by the 5% rule, so Deputy City Administrator Cindy Steinhauser said Rochester City Council members are unlikely to face special elections next year.

If redistricting causes a ward boundary to move and shifts a sitting council member’s home outside the current ward, state guidelines say the council member is allowed to complete the existing term, but cannot seek re-election without moving into the new ward boundaries.

5. Mapping tools allow county residents to weigh in

Olmsted County’s redistricting website includes an existing boundary map showing the county’s current seven districts. Debra Ehret Miller, the county’s director of policy, analysis and communications, said plans call for adding proposed maps as they are developed next year.

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The maps provide the option to comment on a variety of concerns, including whether the district includes a specific population that should be considered or appears to unfairly split neighborhoods.

6. Rochester League of Women voters plan a discussion

An online forum will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 to focus on plans for redrawing Rochester city wards and Olmsted County commissioner districts.

Speakers will be Paul Huffman, State League of Women Voters Board of Directors member; Heather J. Heyer, Rochester’s management analyst; and Ben Griffith, Olmsted County planning director.

The forum is co-sponsored by the Rochester Public Library, Chamber of Commerce, IMAA, NAACP and the Diversity Council.

To attend using Zoom software, participants will need the meeting ID 844 6348 8338 and the passcode 490763.

Participation by phone is also available by calling (312) 626-6799 and using the same meeting ID and passcode. If prompted to provide a participant ID, enter # to skip.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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