As 2020 U.S. Census data is released over the next month, Hubbard County residents are encouraged to advocate for a transparent local redistricting process.
The League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area (LWV) hosted a program on this topic April 21.
“I’m eagerly awaiting this information because we’ll be using it for our economic development strategy for our region,” said guest speaker Antonio Franklin Jr., economic development planner with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission.
Final census apportionment counts will be announced April 30 by the U.S. Census Bureau. “These are going to be used at local levels for elected officials and for the redistricting process,” Franklin said.
County population and demographic components will be issued May 4. City and town populations follow on May 27.
Franklin urges citizens to sign up at https://www.census.gov/data.html to receive alerts when census data is available.
He explained that the U.S. Census Bureau shares two types of data: population counts and geographic data. A “census block” is a geographical area bounded by physical features – such as roads, rivers or lakes – or by political subdivisions. “Census tracts” are census blocks with 1,500 to 1,800 people.
“During the Trump administration, they designated opportunity zones. These are low-income census tracts that are nominated by our governor and certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury to encourage investors to invest in these communities” in exchange for certain federal capital gains tax advantages,” Franklin said.
Hubbard County has one designated opportunity zone. It’s located in the city of Park Rapids.
What is redistricting?
Franklin defined redistricting as “the act of redrawing boundaries for representational districts.” “It’s to ensure that people of each district are equally represented,” he said. “This aligns with the League of Women Voters. One of your goals is equality and inclusion. Making sure there is transparency and accuracy in the mapping is very important.”
The deadline for redistricting municipal precincts is March 29, 2022. New local government districts must be adopted by April 26, 2022.
The Minnesota Legislature is responsible for redrawing U.S. congressional and state legislative districts. All districts must be equal in population.
The Hubbard County Board handles redistricting county commissioner districts. Population cannot vary more than 10 percent from the average of all districts in the county, unless the result forces a district to be split.
County redistricting must be complete no later than 80 days after state redistricting.
Franklin noted that the county can levy a special redistricting tax to cover related expenses. It cannot exceed $1 per capita in a levy year.
Cities and towns must either reestablish their existing boundary or redraw it to conform to statutory requirements. They have 60 days to complete this after the state legislature.
“School districts need to keep an eye on what the redistricting looks like in their city,” he added.
Redistricting affects political power. “It can determine how many Democrats or Republicans may be in one district,” Franklin said. “One thing I would suggest is don’t let the elected officials choose their voters. It should be the other way around.”
“Gerrymandering” is the manipulation of district lines to protect or change political power by either packing voters into a district or splitting voters into districts so they become a minority.
What can citizens do?
“One of the important things that you could be doing is advocating for an independent redistricting commission,” which involves private citizens in the process, Franklin said.
He also asks residents to participate in public hearings about redistricting “to ensure transparency and accountability.”
Florence Hedeen, a LWV member and Hubbard County complete count committee chair, agreed. “Citizens have a responsibility to make sure that representation is appropriate for their area.”
People Powered Fair Maps is a national redistricting program of the LWV focused on creating fair political maps nationwide. The program includes actions in all 50 states.
Voters can challenge redistricting in court, Franklin noted, if something seems amiss.
League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area: http://lwvparkrapidsarea.blogspot.com
Minnesota Secretary of State: www.sos.state.mn.us
Funders Committee for Civic Participation: https://funderscommittee.org