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All of the finalists for a new Minnesota state flag incorporate the North Star. The loon appears to have lost out.

The apparent absence of the official state bird was among thousands of critiques that flooded social media this week as a state commission charged with redesigning Minnesota's emblems narrowed down their list to six finalists for the flag. They also chose five finalists for the state seal.

Love the finalists or hate them, Minnesotans who didn't think much about their old state flag — or even know what it looked like — are now deeply invested in the process to design a new one.

As the commission barrels toward a Jan. 1 deadline to present a final design for the flag and the seal to the Legislature, here's what to know about how the process works, why the flag is changing and how the humble loon might still land on at least one state emblem.

Why didn't commission members want a loon on the state flag?

Next to the North Star, loons were the most popular symbol on the more than 2,000 flag designs submitted by the public, which the commission requested. The state bird floated on lakes, flapped their wings and even shot lasers out of its eyes in several designs.

But members of the emblems commission expressed concerns about the loon as a unifying symbol. The loon is mostly spotted on lakes in central and northeastern Minnesota, not in all regions of the state. "I've never seen a loon in southern Minnesota," said Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, a nonvoting member of the commission.

Some members simply didn't like the idea of putting any kind of animal on the flag, but loon fans haven't been totally left out in the cold. The top vote-getter among the five finalists for Minnesota's new state seal is a loon taking flight off one of the state's 10,000 lakes. As the official state bird, commission members felt the loon was more appropriate for the seal, which is used as a symbol for Minnesota government.

And some social media users argue one flag submission with a white and blue wave could also include two abstract loons, though comments on the design from commission members suggested they represented water.

Why did they like the North Star so much?

Since 1861, Minnesota's state motto has been "L'Etoile du Nord," French for the "star of the north." Commission members felt the identity of Minnesota as the nation's guiding North Star was the most recognizable in other parts of the country, as well as a unifying for people living across the state. All six flag finalists incorporated an image of the star.

"When you travel around and about and people know you are from Minnesota, what are the first things they talk about? I think that star of the north is definitely one of them," said state Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, a nonvoting member of the commission.

Can the state flag and the seal match?

Commission members did pick one state flag and seal that contained matching imagery — a snow flake imposed over the North Star. Fans of the loon imagery on one of the state seal finalists wondered if the commission could use it on the flag as well. While they can make changes to the final designs they select, it seems unlikely that they'd plop the loon imagery from the seal over an existing design.

What kind of changes can they make?

Commission members have stressed throughout the process that the final designs they choose will be the basis of the new state flag and seal, but they can tweak everything from the colors to the wording on the seal. Even as they selected finalists on Tuesday, members debated which shades of blue they preferred and the different shapes of stars they could use. One wondered if the state should include the state's motto in its original French or leave it off entirely.

Why don't they just keep the old flag and seal?

The 13-member commission was created by the Minnesota Legislature last session to change the design of both the flag and the seal after decades of criticism that the white settler imagery on the state's current emblems is offensive to tribal communities. The law required them to come up with designs that "accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota's shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities."

Can I weigh in on the finalists?

The State Emblems Redesign Commission plans to update its website to allow comments from Minnesotans on the finalists, but there won't be a public vote. The commission is expected to select the final designs next month.

Who designed them?

The commission decided to keep the identity of the flag and seal designers private, so unless individuals come forward to claim their creations, we may never know who came up with the idea for our new state flag and seal. Even though it wasn't a finalist, many people (including Star Tribune reporters) are still trying to figure out who submitted a photo of their dog for the new state flag.