Redistricting, reapportionment, and gerrymandering are some of the topics for a community forum being held next Wednesday October 3rd in Bemidji at the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. The forum is called Fair Districts = Fair Elections. Sponsors include a broad consortium of community groups from across the political spectrum: Indivisible Bemidji, League of Women Voters Bemidji, Bemidji Area Citizens for an Informed Electorate, American Indian Resource Center, Beltrami County DFL, and Beltrami County GOP.
Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera is one of the speakers for the forum. She is Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota. She spoke with Maggie Montgomery on the Wednesday Morning Show and explained how voting district boundaries are drawn in Minnesota: “In the State of MN we draw congressional US House districts as well as State House districts...Under Minnesota’s constitution, the legislative body has oversight over the redistricting process. What many people don’t know is that for almost the entire history in which we have been participating in the redistricting process at a state level in that fashion, our state legislature has failed to actually pass fair district maps. As a result, the Supreme Court has had to step in, through provisions that allow for that in our constitution, to launch an independent redistricting commission of sorts. It then takes care of a public process whereby Minnesotans from all over the state can engage in various hearings and either provide suggestions as to what redistricting can look like within their immediate communities, or speak to what they don’t like—or like—from what is being entertained at that time.”
The US Census plays an important role in redistricting. As Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera explains, “It is actually the building block of the redistricting process itself. The Census provides all of the information with regard to population shifts and population growth within the State of MN. If folks just want to think about Lego blocks…many times you see kids taking Lego blocks and creating these little blocks that come of different sizes and colors and building something out of it. Well the Census provides data blocks that work in the very same way that Lego blocks do when we’re trying to build something. So when we’re shaping political districts or districts that comprise X number of individuals and geographic areas, we’re doing that by using that census block information.”
Redistricting follows reapportionment, which follows the Census. “Reapportionment is the divvying out of the 435 seats of the United States House of Representatives,” says Belladonna-Carrera. “That is done based on population. Many people might have heard during the last couple of redistricting cycles a concern that perhaps Minnesota might be losing a congressional seat. Where that congressional seat lies, no one really knows exactly because we rely on population changes and shifts that are reported every 10 years in the Census. So the reapportionment process is literally the reassessment of how many of those 435 seats the State of MN will get as compared to, say, Texas, or as compared to California or Iowa or any other state.
“The process of redistricting is actually drawing a geographic map of a particular district. So one has to do with assigning seats in the US House of Representatives, and the other one has to do with creating a map—a geographic map—that encapsulates what those districts are and where are they.”
Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera describes gerrymandering in three different ways “One of them is where districts are drawn to essentially protect the incumbent within that district. Another example may be when districts are drawn not necessarily to protect the incumbent but rather to protect the party presence within a particular district or in that region as part of a larger strategy. Then the last one that comes up a lot as well is when you see gerrymandering being done—or the manipulation of those district lines being done—as a way of punishing an incumbent who is not extreme enough for the larger caucus. So say that I’m a Democrat and my particular caucus in the House is very liberal on a particular issue around housing, and I voted in a more moderate way. My caucus might not be very happy with me because I consistently tend to vote in a more moderate way whereas they continue to move more left. Same thing works on the Republican side.”
The Fair Districts = Fair Elections forum will explore many more issues around redistricting. Other speakers include Nick Harper from League of Women Voters MN, Peter Watson, former MN State Counsel, and Rep. Jennifer Schultz, District 7A (DFL).
In the full interview below, Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera discusses what makes districts fair, and some actions citizens can take to make sure redistricting in Minnesota is done fairly.
The Fair Districts = Fair Elections forum is free and open to the public and takes place from 7-8:30 at the American Indian Resource Center at BSU. There will be time for audience questions and a reception will follow.