Protecting Rochester’s votes

Working closely with staff I drafted the following note that will be sent to Olmsted County for input on redistricting.  On Monday evening the city council approved the comments with a 7-0 vote.  Right now the city of Rochester is severely under represented on the county board of commissioners.  Our residents represent 5.1 of the 7 seats in the county, however we have only 4 of 7 seats on the county board.  By the time of the next census, I expect that we will have nearly 5.5 of the 7 county seats and once again be under represented.  As such it is important that we get fair districts established today.  I also weigh in on some general practices which need to be addressed in county districts 1 and 5.  So as to be consistent, I expect the city will follow these same principles.

As the elected representatives for the citizens of Rochester, it is our duty to weigh in on actions that affect the fair and proportional representation of our citizens.  Redistricting is the most important action as it pertains to fair and proportional representation.  As a city we have communicated our concerns to the state and we are now doing the same with Olmsted County.

Based on 2010 census data, the Rochester now represents about 5.1 out of 7 seats in the county.  As such it is the position of the people of Rochester that five Olmsted County Board of Commissioners seats be drawn within the city, to the extent that it is practical and consistent with standards related to equalizing population, complying with the Voting Rights Act, and creating compact and contiguous districts.  This is particularly important to the citizens of Rochester as we expect the trend of our city representing a higher percentage of county population to continue.  By the time of the 2020 census Rochester will be once again underrepresented, just as we are today. A sixth seat should contain the remainder of Rochester residents.

In addition to ensuring that Rochester receives the five full seats it deserves based on population, we wish to advise the County Board that our wards and precincts will be drawn so as to protect neighborhood integrity and specifically request that Olmsted County also respect neighborhood integrity in its boundaries.  District 1 as it is currently drawn is not compact and contiguous and combines neighborhoods with widely different interests.

County Commissioner Districts should reflect the distribution of minority and low income population within the City, and the significant difference between most City neighborhoods and the balance of Olmsted County’s jurisdictions. Rochester’s minority or low income populations should neither be packed into a single district nor cracked into several districts. We are concerned that District 1 currently packs low income and minority groups into a single district that is clearly not reasonably compact.  We are also concerned that District 5 dilutes Rochester’s northwest neighborhood population by combining it with Kalmar Township and the City of Byron. Reasonably contiguous and compact districts can and should be drawn in the city of Rochester.

In previous years, local jurisdictions established precincts and districts in part based on where state district lines were drawn due to the requirement that each precinct have election judges.  Election rule changes now allow for a single set of judges to be at a polling location regardless if two or more precincts vote at that same location.  We can now create small precincts on either side of a state district line to ensure that a neighborhood remains contiguous.

It is our goal as a city to ensure that our own lines are drawn in a way that is fair to our citizens.  Because we have new tools to ensure neighborhood continuity we will strive to keep neighborhoods together.  We expect standards of fairness to apply to our own process and will seek to ensure that Rochester is given the five full and fair Olmsted County seats we now deserve.

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