What the current population trends mean for Minnesota’s legislative district boundaries — and politics

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
More than just moving lines around, population shifts could have big implications for control of the Minnesota House and Senate in the next decade.

Correction: Several days after this piece was first published, MinnPost became aware that there were errors in the data on 2016 senate district populations provided by the Minnesota State Demographer’s office. The demographer has since provided MinnPost with corrected data and we have updated the piece and accompanying graphic with the accurate data.

A couple weeks ago, we looked at how unequal population growth in Minnesota’s eight congressional districts is going to have a big effect when new district lines are drawn after the 2020 Census — especially if Minnesota loses a seat in the U.S. House, as many expect will happen.

Redistricting isn’t just for congressional districts, though: Minnesota’s 67 State Senate and 134 House Districts will need to be redrawn in the wake of the 2020 Census, too. And while we’re not at any risk of losing any seats in the Legislature — those numbers are set by law — differing rates of population growth in the current districts means the 2022 election map could look different from today’s.

Here’s a look at the latest data on population shifts in Minnesota’s legislative districts and what that might mean for redistricting and Minnesota’s future political makeup.

Bulking up

In 2012, the first year the current legislative maps were in use, State Senate districts were within about 1,130 people of each other, population-wise. They averaged about 79,160 people, according to data from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

By 2016, the most recent year of estimates we have available, the gap between the biggest district and the smallest had grown to nearly 10,800 people. The average district had 82,517 people in it. By 2021, those numbers will have diverged from when the lines were drawn even more.

Minnesota Senate District population changes, 2012–2016
Greater MinnesotaMetro
2 Senate District 2
Park Rapids
Net population change:+1,118
1 Senate District 1
East Grand Forks
Net population change:-37
4 Senate District 4
Twin Valley
Net population change:+4,523
5 Senate District 5
Grand Rapids
Net population change:+1,907
6 Senate District 6
Chisholm
Net population change:-984
3 Senate District 3
Cook
Net population change:-750
8 Senate District 8
Alexandria
Net population change:+1,877
9 Senate District 9
Nisswa
Net population change:-719
10 Senate District 10
Breezy Point
Net population change:+908
11 Senate District 11
Kerrick
Net population change:-826
7 Senate District 7
Duluth
Net population change:+543
35 Senate District 35
Anoka
Net population change:+5,245
12 Senate District 12
Elbow Lake
Net population change:+104
13 Senate District 13
Paynesville
Net population change:+3,021
14 Senate District 14
St. Cloud
Net population change:+2,667
15 Senate District 15
Milaca
Net population change:+1,981
32 Senate District 32
North Branch
Net population change:+1,981
34 Senate District 34
Maple Grove
Net population change:+6,959
36 Senate District 36
Champlin
Net population change:+2,499
37 Senate District 37
Coon Rapids
Net population change:+6,886
38 Senate District 38
Lino Lakes
Net population change:+3,981
16 Senate District 16
Redwood Falls
Net population change:-2,351
29 Senate District 29
Buffalo
Net population change:+3,733
30 Senate District 30
Big Lake
Net population change:+6,486
31 Senate District 31
Ham Lake
Net population change:+2,301
33 Senate District 33
Mound
Net population change:+6,004
40 Senate District 40
Brooklyn Center
Net population change:+4,144
41 Senate District 41
Columbia Heights
Net population change:+4,290
42 Senate District 42
Shoreview
Net population change:+4,363
39 Senate District 39
St. Mary's Point
Net population change:+4,546
43 Senate District 43
Maplewood
Net population change:+3,454
17 Senate District 17
Olivia
Net population change:-1,397
18 Senate District 18
Hutchinson
Net population change:-1,286
47 Senate District 47
Chaska
Net population change:+8,269
58 Senate District 58
Lakeville
Net population change:+5,550
48 Senate District 48
Eden Prairie
Net population change:+3,516
44 Senate District 44
Plymouth
Net population change:+5,236
46 Senate District 46
St. Louis Park
Net population change:+6,106
45 Senate District 45
New Hope
Net population change:+4,117
59 Senate District 59
Minneapolis
Net population change:+7,744
60 Senate District 60
Minneapolis
Net population change:+7,737
66 Senate District 66
Roseville
Net population change:+4,917
19 Senate District 19
North Mankato
Net population change:+4,453
20 Senate District 20
Madison Lake
Net population change:+2,409
21 Senate District 21
Red Wing
Net population change:+33
50 Senate District 50
Bloomington
Net population change:+4,424
49 Senate District 49
Edina
Net population change:+5,837
61 Senate District 61
Minneapolis
Net population change:+7,726
62 Senate District 62
Minneapolis
Net population change:+7,739
63 Senate District 63
Minneapolis
Net population change:+6,940
64 Senate District 64
St. Paul
Net population change:+5,389
24 Senate District 24
Faribault
Net population change:+385
25 Senate District 25
Rochester
Net population change:+4,656
26 Senate District 26
Rochester
Net population change:+4,598
51 Senate District 51
Eagan
Net population change:+4,357
52 Senate District 52
Mendota Heights
Net population change:+3,165
65 Senate District 65
St. Paul
Net population change:+5,365
67 Senate District 67
St. Paul
Net population change:+5,383
53 Senate District 53
Woodbury
Net population change:+7,273
54 Senate District 54
Cottage Grove
Net population change:+2,057
22 Senate District 22
Luverne
Net population change:-1,405
23 Senate District 23
Vernon Center
Net population change:-2,529
27 Senate District 27
Austin
Net population change:-808
28 Senate District 28
Winona
Net population change:-653
55 Senate District 55
Prior Lake
Net population change:+7,638
57 Senate District 57
Apple Valley
Net population change:+4,655
56 Senate District 56
Burnsville
Net population change:+5,253

Legend

  •   Gained more than 6,471
  •   Gained more than 4,971
  •   Gained more than 3,471
  •   Gained more than 1,971
  •   Gained more than 471
  •   Lost up to 1,029
  •   Lost more than 1,029
Note: City names noted are the home-city of the current Senator representing the district.

Unlike the last round of redistricting, in 2011, when the Twin Cities’ exurbs bulked up, this time around, it’s the cities that are putting on weight.

The top population gainer was Senate District 47, a suburban district to the southwest of Minneapolis that includes the cities of Waconia and Chaska. The next top three gainers are all Minneapolis districts: SD 59, SD 62 and SD 60.

No metro senate district lost population between 2012 and 2016; the same can’t be said of Greater Minnesota districts, which saw some of the biggest losses. Senate District 23, in the southern part of the state, covering Watonwan, Martin and parts of Faribault and Jackson counties, lost more than 2,500 people. Other big losers included SD 16, SD 17 and SD 22 in southwestern Minnesota.

What does all this mean for redistricting?

“If you look at the fastest-growing cities, that’s where we’re going to see the most change in legislative boundaries,” Brower said. Geographically, those districts will likely shrink, to accommodate more dense population, while districts that are losing population will become geographically larger.

“Rochester is up there, Blaine, Woodbury, the growth in those areas are closer to 9,000 or 8,000 … so it’s a different kind of magnitude, but again that’s where we’ll be seeing those district lines shift,” Brower said.

Political implications

More than just moving lines around, these population shifts could have big implications for control of the Minnesota House and Senate in the next decade.

With the Twin Cities metro trending more blue in recent elections and gaining people, the changes could spell more wins for the DFL.

“If the growth is in the urban areas, theoretically that’s going to help the DFL, and the DFL is probably excited if that’s where the population growth is because they might pick up a few seats,” said Jim Cottrill, a political science professor at St. Cloud State University who specializes in redistricting.

Now, all of this back of the napkin math rests on one big assumption: that the lines will be drawn in more or less the same way they have been in the past.

In recent years, it’s the courts that have drawn redistricting lines in Minnesota because of Legislatures and governors who couldn’t agree on plans. Court-drawn redistricting plans, research has found, have tended to create more competitive districts.

It won’t necessarily be the courts that draw the lines in 2021. The redistricting process rides on who wins the election for governor in November, as well as who’s elected to the House and Senate in 2020. If they can’t agree or if a legislative plan faces legal challenges, it could get kicked to the courts again.

But it’s technically the legislature’s job. And while the rules are pretty strict for drawing lines at the Congressional level, thanks to Supreme Court rulings, Cottrill said, “one of the things that’s interesting about the state level is that there’s not as clear guidance from the courts about how much of a difference there can be in the districts.”

Some states have districts that vary in population by as much as 10 percent, Cottrill said, and it follows that if population changes aren’t huge and the party in power doesn’t want to change lines much, they might not have to.

Unlike Congressional districts, which encompass a pretty big share of the state’s population, legislative districts are small, so little changes in the way lines are drawn can matter a lot.

“My district in St. Cloud, the first year I moved here in 2014, Zach Dorholt (the DFL House candidate) lost by 69 votes,” Cottrill said. “Two of my classes could have swung that election the other way — they’re so close that really just razor-thin differences in the way they’re drawn can make a huge difference.”

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 09/17/2018 - 09:27 am.

    I don’t think your figures for SD47 are correct. Everything in central and western Carver County is growing — Chaska is up 3,200 since 2010, Waconia is +1,900, Carver is +900, NYA is +250, Watertown is +250, Mayer is +350. There are some small declines in a couple townships, but not enough to offset what is seen above.

    • Submitted by Tom Nehil on 09/25/2018 - 02:38 pm.

      The numbers in the original piece were indeed incorrect. We’ve updated the piece with new data from the state demographer and SD 47 was in fact the district with the largest population growth during this period.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/17/2018 - 10:30 am.

    Quite frankly, given the somewhat poisonous partisanship of the years since I moved here, my hope is that the courts will draw district boundaries once again after the 2020 census. A responsible legislature, recognizing its own demonstrated inability to run the process equitably, would pass appropriate legislation to put this chore in the hands of people who won’t be running for office and have little or nothing to gain or lose personally from where the lines fall (i.e., the courts), but I have my doubts about the level of responsibility that can be assigned to our state legislators.

    • Submitted by Bob Brown on 09/17/2018 - 04:49 pm.

      Judges can be just as biased or even more so in some occasions. In the early 1970s we passed a legislative redistricting bill overwhelming in the senate (27 conservatives ( prior to party designation for the legislature) and 27 DFLers voting in favor with only 7 conservatives and 6 DFLers against.The bill also passed by a large margin in the House. Unfortunately, the Governor made a commitment to the DFL leader in the House that he would veto the bill unless it protected all of freshman DFLers – an impossible task – so the Governor vetoed the bill and the redistricting was done by the judge who happened to be a former DFL National Committeeman. The result was an unbelievably biased redrawing of districts.

      I think there is a way to draw fair redistricting maps. Let the legislature develop some basic criteria – such as not removing a county seat from at least part of its county or not splitting a city of less that 5000 into two districts, determine the maximum population deviation allowed (e.g., 10%) etc. Then put the census data into computer, and using the agreed on criteria, randomly determine which corner of the state to begin and let the machine create the districts.

      Bob Brown

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