City of Rochester Fair Redistricting Act

Below is the text of an action the City Council took last night. We explicitly asked our staff to collaborate on the County to see if we can create a joint policy. It is my hope that Olmsted County and other local governments will take similar actions to protect the collective voice of the people in their communities. This does not create any new work, as we actually have no local policy on the topic or redistricting and need to create one. Previously this work was done away from public view by the joint Olmsted-Rochester Planning Department which no longer exists.

The best time to set policies guiding redistricting is before this becomes an issue in 2021. The language below was the result of best practice collaboration between the former County Planning director, volunteers & staff from League of Women Voters, CM Campion and myself. The goal here is to create the absolute gold standard for fair redistricting for local governments.

If you are part of an organization that believes in equity or fair elections, I hope you will support the important endeavor.

Note the WordPress formatting converted some a-f sub-bullets to 1-6, but you get it…

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Council Member Requesting Action: Michael Wojcik

Council Members supporting that the request be placed on the Council’s Agenda: Nick Campion

Title: Fair Redistricting Act

Brief Description: A collection of rules to be officially added to as city policy, memorialized in the community comprehensive plan, and to be executed upon by staff.

Action Requested: It is our belief that the people of the City of Rochester should be entitled to fair districts, that politicians should not be able to manipulate the drawing of districts, and that the unity of the collective voice of the people of Rochester should not be diminished by gerrymandering. As such we are directing the City Administrator and City Attorney or their designees to codify the “best practice” concepts on the following pages into a policy. The City Clerk is responsible for the execution of this policy.  Further we direct the City Administrator, City Attorney and City Clerk work with County Staff to attempt drafting a joint City/County policy.   If the County is not willing to participate, the City staff shall continue with a City only policy. 

Provision Policies:

  1. This policy governs all redistricting efforts that affect Rochester in part or in whole.
  2. Districts shall comply with all state & federal laws.
  3. The City of Rochester shall be recognized and defended as a community of interest when subject to redistricting.
  4. Districts shall be drawn in accordance with the following principles in clauses (a) through (f). If districts cannot be drawn fully in accordance with the principles, a districting plan must give priority to those principles in the order in which they are listed;
    1. Districts must be substantially equal in population. The population of a district must not deviate from the ideal by more than 2 percent.
    2. Districts must not be drawn with either the purpose or effect of abridging the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, ethnicity, or membership in a language minority group, and otherwise must comply with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
    3. Districts must be contiguous allowing for easy travel throughout the district. Contiguity by water body is sufficient if the body of water is not a serious obstacle to travel within the district. A district with areas that touch only at a point is not contiguous.
    4. Districts must minimize the division of identifiable communities of interest. Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.
    5. Districts must be reasonably compact, as measured by one or more generally accepted statistical tests, except that irregularities in the municipal boundary of the City shall not be a factor in comparing compactness.
    6. Districts must rely on easily understood boundaries including the boundary of the city of Rochester, bodies of water, and major roadways.
  5. Districts need not consider previous district boundaries. Districts shall not consider previous district boundaries if those boundaries would violate the Fair Redistricting Act.
  6. The process of drawing district boundaries shall solicit public comment.
  7. The process of drawing district boundaries shall be open and fair; the process must allow for public observation at every step of the process. Process steps will be recorded and archived consistent with the Transparency Act of 2019.
  8. In advance of redistricting; the City Clerk or designee shall provide formal guidance, consistent with the Fair Redistricting Act, to any non-city jurisdiction whose districts wholly or partially include the City of Rochester.
  9. Upon review of proposed districts, the City of Rochester will formally notify relevant decision-making bodies and the public if proposed maps violate the Fair Redistricting Act.
  10. The City of Rochester shall use all means available to contest any County, State, or Federal government; which seeks to create districts that:
    1. Fail to comply with the Fair Redistricting Act; or
    2. Cross City of Rochester boundaries more times than is necessary; thereby unnecessarily “cracking” the collective voice of the people of Rochester.
  11. Olmsted County Commission districts should be representative of the population and distribution of Olmsted County. A maximum of 1 district should straddle the municipal boundary of the City of Rochester.
  12. There should not be more than one Legislative District at any level that crosses the municipal boundary of the City of Rochester.

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