A group of Minnesota voters is asking the courts to draw the state's legislative and congressional maps, the opening salvo in the once-a-decade redistricting process to reset the state's political boundaries to account for population shifts.
The lawsuit, filed in Carver County last week, argues Minnesota lawmakers have failed to set political maps dating back to at least 1971, when the courts stepped in because of disagreements between the Legislature and the governor. The courts have been drawing the lines ever since.
With divided government in St. Paul, the voters behind the lawsuit expect another impasse this year.
"The Senate Committee on Redistricting met twice, then stopped. The House Redistricting Committee has not met at all," said Peter Wattson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "Neither the Senate nor the House appears to be on a path to enact congressional or legislative redistricting plans this decade."
The lawsuit seeks to block the Minnesota secretary of state and auditors in all 87 counties from using the current legislative and congressional maps in the 2022 election. They note the population has exploded in some areas of the state — including Carver County — and dramatically declined in others.
Every 10 years, redistricting aims to evenly disperse the state's population among legislative and congressional districts. Without new maps to account for shifts, voters in overpopulated districts will see their power diluted "while exaggerating the power of voters in underpopulated districts," according to the complaint.
The lawsuit also asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to consolidate and take jurisdiction over all lawsuits challenging the congressional or legislative districts and appoint a special redistricting panel to draw the lines, as it's done for decades.
Wattson said he doesn't have faith the Legislature will come to an agreement on a set of new maps by the state's deadline of Feb. 15, 2022.
His father assisted several St. Paul neighbors who sued the state in 1957 after decades of inaction on drawing new political maps. Wattson spent decades working on redistricting as a staffer in the state Senate and saw gridlock between the governor and legislators kick the issue to the courts.
"Seven decades of citizens having to go to court to force the Legislature to do something, and five decades of having the courts actually draw the plans. Enough is enough," he said. "Why would anyone think the Legislature could get it done this time?"
Chairs of the House and Senate redistricting committees did not return a request seeking comment.
The process is even more complicated after a chaotic population count during the pandemic that's led to major delays from the Census Bureau, which pushed back the reapportionment of U.S. House seats from Dec. 31 to April 30. Minnesota is on the cusp of losing one of its eight seats in Congress.
Block-by-block level data from the bureau, which lawmakers use to draw the maps, is delayed by months until the end of September, complicating plans for lawmakers and candidates who are contemplating their options and don't yet know the boundaries of their districts.
It could force legislators to delay candidate filing deadlines and parties to delay local endorsing conventions.
"I think this unprecedented delay seems to raise the stakes of litigation," said Secretary of State Steve Simon, who couldn't comment on the specifics of the pending litigation. "It appears more likely than not that courts will end up taking out their pencils and drawing the maps."
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042