A NEW REDISTRICTING REFORM BILL FOR 2020
In the 2019 legislative session, the Minnesota House included our redistricting bill, HF 1605, chief-authored by Rep. Ginny Klevorn (Plymouth), in the elections omnibus bill passed by the House. The Minnesota Senate did not provide a hearing for our senate companion bill SF 2575 and advanced no bills related to elections during the regular session.
HF 1605 called for an advisory commission (five retired judges and twelve additional citizens) to draw new district boundaries after the 2020 census. An advisory commission would be responsible for gathering public input and providing drafts for the legislators to review and pass. The proposed commission included members of both major parties along with independents and/or small party members. The bill also provided principles so the commission could function in a nonpartisan manner and gave ample opportunities for statewide public input before and after the new districts were drawn. Further, the bill established conditions for a fully open and transparent process throughout the entire redistricting process.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle introduced other redistricting bills in the last session. One of these bills incorporated much of the language in HF 1605. Others called for small independent commissions of retired judges only or individuals appointed by legislative leaders.
Although HF 1605 was not enacted in the 2019 session, advocates had many opportunities to meet with legislators of both parties, to hear legislator concerns, and to testify in House, Senate and Joint Committee hearings. Bolstered and informed by this experience, the Minnesota Alliance for Democracy are revising HF 1605 and will present a new draft bill for consideration at the start of the 2020 legislative session.
Our coalition is currently working with legislators and leadership from the Minnesota House and Senate to develop early consensus around a new bill that has bipartisan support.
Rationale for an independent redistricting commission
A number of legislators told us that an advisory commission’s maps could be ignored by the legislature and that whatever was established by statute could be undone by statute. An independent commission can pass maps on their own authority without legislator approval. However, a truly independent commission can only be created by amending the Minnesota constitution, since the constitution gives the state legislature responsibility for redistricting.
Our new bill calls for a constitutional amendment ballot question on the 2020 ballot, to establish such an independent commission with citizen members who are less subject to partisan influences. It will incorporate most other elements of HF 1605. It will also contain a provision to establish an advisory commission in the event the constitutional amendment fails to gain voter approval. Significant time, resources, and extensive voter education are necessary to pass a constitutional amendment ballot question, so inclusion of the back-up advisory commission is critical to ensure that redistricting reform progresses, regardless of the outcome of the ballot question.
We believe an independent citizens commission is best at lessening the impact of partisanship and self-interest. At the same time, it is the one approach that gives citizens a primary role in determining how their districts represent them.
Steps to establishing an independent commission or advisory commission
1. The legislature must first pass the bill enabling an independent commission, with language for a ballot question that asks whether the constitution should be amended.
2. Minnesota voters must approve the proposed amendment by a majority of total ballots cast in the election—not just a majority of votes on the question. A prior redistricting ballot measure in 1980 was defeated, despite a majority of votes cast in favor, because it needed about 3,200 more “yes” votes to meet the standard.
3. If the amendment passes in November 2020, forming the commission can begin immediately and redistricting efforts can start in April 2021, when census data becomes available.
4. If the amendment fails, an advisory commission will form to do the work of redistricting in 2021. The advisory commission would also provide proof of the fairness and effectiveness of an impartial, transparent citizen-led redistricting process.
An independent commission is only part of the process
Redistricting is complex, and simply taking the process out of the hands of the legislature is no guarantee of success. Other factors count, including:
• Fair process in selection of commissioners to mitigate partisan influence and reflect the diversity of Minnesota
• Redistricting principles, a code of conduct, and expert support
• Fully transparent processes that encourage public participation and input