A decade ago, political map makers drew a line through a driveway in tiny Germantown Township in southwestern Minnesota, separating two homes on the same farm into different congressional districts.
A graveyard, a public works building and three people living in the central Minnesota city of Royalton landed in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District, even though the rest of the city sits in the northeastern Eighth District.
More than a dozen communities across the state were split between two congressional districts during the last round of redistricting, from inner-ring suburbs such as Edina to townships in far-flung corners of the state. For smaller communities, the lines have become a headache, zigzagging through city streets or cutting across farm fields and dividing their towns. It added layers of uncertainty for voters and extra costs to administer elections for cash-strapped local governments.
As lawmakers start the process of redrawing maps for the next decade, some local officials are pleading with them not to divide their towns again.
"It's a lot of money, it's a lot of confusion, for us and for the voters," said Denise Anderson, the Rice County property tax and elections director who has been fighting for the past two years to unify Webster Township 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities. "Voters just assume Webster is all one district, because it was like that back in the 1900s."
In 2012, after divided government couldn't agree on new political maps, the courts drew maps that split the east and west sides of Webster Township between the First District, now represented by Republican Jim Hagedorn, and the Second District, where DFLer Angie Craig now holds the seat.
But the line wasn't drawn straight through Webster, a community of fewer than 2,000 people. It zigged and zagged erratically, in some cases putting people on one side of the street in one congressional district and neighbors across the street in the other.
The township and the county passed resolutions asking to be put back into one district. Anderson has written letters to lawmakers and testified before redistricting committees, which are starting work to redraw the maps.
The timeline for redistricting is condensed this year, after delayed data from the U.S. Census Bureau set back the legislative process by months. Lawmakers must agree on maps by a Feb. 15 deadline, but with the Legislature divided between Republicans and Democrats, most expect the process to get kicked to the state's courts, as it has for the past several decades.
In communities like Webster, being divided means extra work for often part-time or volunteer township officials. Some communities must set up extra polling places, find and train more election judges and print separate sets of ballots, sometimes for just a small fraction of voters. Webster has four ballots depending on congressional and school district divisions, including one ballot printed up for only two voters.
Getting a ballot different from their close neighbors' is confusing for voters, Anderson said, some of whom already question the integrity of the system. And it's also about representation, she said.
"In Webster Township, if they want something done, they've got two people that they have to reach out to, and it's hard enough getting through to one," she said.
In New Prague, divided along a county road between the First and Second Congressional Districts, Mayor Duane Jirik said the city needs a new post office, so he'll appeal to both representatives, but it would less confusing for everyone if the community were squarely in one district.
"Keep us in one, I don't care which one, make the decision and don't split us up," said Jirik, who noted that voters have also been split by state legislative districts as well. "We are split on a lot of stuff down here."
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who serves on the House Redistricting Committee, said the same communities tend to get divided each decade. Watonwan County, where he has a farm, has been "split, sliced and diced every which way since 1972."
"You can't make a map that just includes whole counties, it's just not possible, but we should look historically at what we've done with these districts and local jurisdictions in the past," he said. "We need to recognize that and try not to pile on and do this to the same people over and over."
Not everyone complains about the divisions. Edina is neatly cut into quadrants by roadways. About a quarter of residents are in the Fifth District, which includes Minneapolis, and the rest fall in the more suburban Third District.
Since the lines are clear-cut, it hasn't caused too many administrative hurdles, said City Manager Scott Neal. Both districts are represented by Democrats in Congress now, but for years, one part of the city had Republican representation and the other side Democratic.
"There was always someone in the majority representing the area that we could go to talk to," Neal said.
But the smaller the community, the more troublesome dividing lines can be. Northern Township Clerk Mary Israelson sat down with the maps in 2012 after the courts divided about 200 properties from the rest of the township near Bemidji.
She realized what was essentially a large drainage ditch popped up on most maps. She thinks the courts thought it was a road.
"It's an actual ditch, it represents no boundaries or anything," she said. "I really hope they take a closer look at municipalities this time around."
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042