How the new Olmsted County map hurts Rochester

The redistricting map approved by Olmsted County is a textbook example how to ensure cities, minorities, and urban poor are not given fair representation.  It is a shameful act of disenfranchisement that relies on fictitious principles of redistricting while ignoring real redistricting considerations.  As a result of the redistricting, Rochester is not likely to achieve the representation that the deserve.

The justification for the selection of “Option 15” basically came about by weighing arbitrary or meaningless metrics while ignoring more important metrics.  Basic principles such and compactness, respect for political subdivisions, and respect for communities of interest (neighborhoods) were ignored needlessly.

 

 

Here are the principles that Hennepin County set up to ensure a fair process as reported at patch.edina.com.

  • County commissioner districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable. The ideal population of the seven commissioner districts, based on 2010 census, is now 164,632. Previously it was 160,000. The variation between districts will not be more or less than 5 percent from the ideal population for each district.
  • Under state law, the county shall use precinct boundaries as determined by cities, towns or the county for an unorganized territory, as the primary unit in creating each district.
  • Each district shall consist of contiguous territory and be as regular and compact in form as possible, including contiguity by water if the body of water doesn’t pose a serious obstacle to travel within a district (particularly applicable, for example, to as wide-ranging a lake as Lake Minnetonka).
  • Districts shall be bounded by town, municipal, ward or precinct lines and, where practical, follow the boundaries of established political subdivisions (for example, not dividing a city or town into more than one district unless necessary to meet population requirements).
  • Districts should attempt to preserve communities of interest and historical alignments of communities (e.g., political subdivisions, neighborhoods, etc.) .

Now here are three completely fictitious or abused principles used to create a poor map in Olmsted County:

  • Districts were drawn to ensure that no incumbents were drawn into the same districts, often referred  to as “incumbent protection.”  This is nice if it works, but should never be a goal.
  • Districts were drawn to an arbitrary and useless standard that seeked to minimize the number of people who changed County Districts.  This means that a gerrymandered map would likely remain gerrymandered.
  • Districts are prioritized by equal populations, rather than simply meeting the requirements.  This completely ignores differential growth rates in different areas and is thus ineffective at its goal.

Now here are some facts about the county:

  • The 2010 census population was 144,248 an increase of 19,971 people since 2000 or 16.1%.
  • The 2010 census population of Rochester was 106,769 an increase of 20,963 people since 2000 or 24.4%
  • The reason the city grew more than the county is in part annexations however it is true that almost all the growth in Olmsted County is in Rochester.
  • Each county district should have about 20,600 people in it.
  • Rochester represents 74% of the county’s population and should have 5.18 of the 7 county seats.
  • Depending on the outcome of local elections Rochester should always have 5 or 6 citizens on the Olmsted County Board.

The important point here is that by sheer principles of proportional representation the city of Rochester should never have less than 5 County Commissioners.  The reality of the map that was drawn up is that Rochester is likely to have only 4 Commissioners and could in theory have as few as 3 Commissioners.

Here are the rankings and metrics that staff presented to the Olmsted County Board (and the board accepted).

(the image I received cut off option 15 which is inconvenient since that is what was picked, thus I deduced the results)

Note that the county metrics at making the districts as close to the same size as possible 3 times (which due to growth since 2010 is already out of date).  They look at minority distribution twice.  They look at Rochester representation once, and they look at number of moves twice.

Here are the numerous problems with this flawed method and the selection of Option 15 (my numbering is based on my best attempt at reading the map colors).

  1. Relative size is weighted 3 times and really the only threshold that needs to be met is that the variation between districts.  So not only is the relative comparison meaningless, but it is counted 3 times.
  2. Relative size in no way considers growth so we end up with the 2 smallest districts being 5 (smart) and 4 (incredibly dumb).
  3. This method counts minority distribution twice, which is a noble attempt but misguided.  While minority population should be considered, what is more applicable to Rochester but ignored is income distribution.
  4. This method treats all minorities as the same.
  5. This method leaves minority or poorer communities in South Rochester and Northwest Rochester without Rochester representation.
  6. This method continues the history of packing lower income neighborhoods into a clearly non-compact district 1.
  7. This method weighs top 5 Rochester representation, but fails to account for how many Rochester citizens are essentially disenfranchised by being placed into districts heavily weighted to non-Rochester areas.
  8. This method ignores the political reality of placing portions of Rochester into areas with non-Rochester incumbents (districts 5 and 4).
  9. This method twice considers the number of people switching districts which is useless, the county grew by 20,000 and likely had even more than that moving in, moving out, or moving around in the last 10 years.
  10. This method preserves bad decisions of the bast by rewarding a smallest change mentality, thus a map is rewarded for being the most like a previous poor map.  Clearly counter productive.
  11. Options 15 does not achieve fair and proportional representation.
  12. This method completely ignores the compactness requirement leading to some unnecessarily funny shaped districts (districts 1, 4, 7)
  13. This method and Option 15 ignores and repeatedly violates the principle that districts shall be bounded by town, municipal, ward or precinct lines and, where practical, follow the boundaries of established political subdivisions (for example, not dividing a city or town into more than one district unless necessary to meet population requirements).
  14. This method and Option 15 ignores and repeatedly violates the principle that districts should attempt to preserve communities of interest and historical alignments of communities (e.g., political subdivisions, neighborhoods, etc.)
  15. Option 15 specifically unnecessarily divides the Country Club Manor Neighborhood.
  16. Option 15 specifically unnecessarily alienates sever neighborhoods from Rochester representation including Country Club Manor, most all Northwest neighborhoods, Century Hills, Emerald Hills, Stonehedge, Neighborhoods North and West of Highway 52 and West Circle Drive , and many Southern and Southwestern areas.  [note that some neighborhoods would have to have non-Rochester representation given the 0.2 seats that we exceed population].

One argument that I heard is that moving people is burdensome or costly.  This is complete nonsense.  It is far worse to have arbitrary splits of neighborhoods or unneeded splitting of cities.  The cost of notification is a bulk postcard that is probably going out anyway.

Absolutely none of the problems listed above were necessary.  The County did have viable options that are consistent with real redistricting principles.  Here is “option 10”:

This option pretty much meets every sound principle of redistricting.

    • The districts are all the correct size without being abusive and over-prioritizing exactness.
    • Each district does consist of contiguous territory and be as regular and compact in form as possible.  Option 15 does not do this.
    • Districts are bounded by town, municipal, ward or precinct lines and follows the boundaries of established political subdivisions and minimizes the number of Rochester divisions at 1.  Option 15 overtly violates this.
    • Option 10 does preserve communities of interest (e.g., political subdivisions, neighborhoods, etc.).
    • Districts have common sense boundaries and are reasonably compact and contiguous.

In my book, the worst part of this disaster of a decision is that it passed 7-0.  I fear that I spent more time with this critique that many people spent weighing the decision.  The number one goal of elected officials in a democracy should be to protect the democracy.  This decision was an epic failure in that regard.  This is hurtful because I know we have some great people on that board and it pains me to see this happen.  Decisions that have hurt Rochester in the past are more likely to continue since we are likely to lack our proportional representation.

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