ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s major political parties took their struggle over redistricting before a special court panel Wednesday, each arguing for a method of redrawing political maps that could help them in future elections.
Arguments included whether the five-judge panel should give more weight to city, county and town boundaries or to so-called “communities of interest” — pockets of ethnic, industrial or demographic overlap, such as largely minority areas.
The new maps are produced every 10 years following the census to make sure congressional and legislative districts have about the same number of people. The court isn’t always the final arbiter, but the political stakes are so high that they have drawn the last few political maps.
The courts are involved this year because Minnesota’s Democratic governor and GOP legislative leaders failed to agree on a plan.
Minnesota’s congressional delegation has four Republicans and four Democrats; both chambers of the Legislature have GOP majorities.
The judges are trying to decide what criteria should guide them before they begin redrawing the maps.
Republican attorney Eric Magnuson told the court it should strive to deliver districts that are roughly equal in population size, don’t have meandering lines and don’t straddle city and county limits very often.
“Objective criteria will aid you in doing your job and will give the public confidence,” Magnuson said, adding that “overly heavy focus on communities of interest is simply too open ended. It allows an after-the-fact justification for any map because you haven’t had objective criteria.”
But Democratic attorney Marc Elias said shifting populations don’t always respect traditional city or county boundaries established decades ago, so other ways of protecting common voter interests must be considered.
“You cannot assume that this is just mechanical process,” he said.
The judges didn’t indicate when they will rule, but new maps must be ready by February so candidates can adjust for the summer primary election and fall general election.
The Legislature will have less than a month to strike a deal with Dayton outside of court when lawmakers convene the 2012 session in January. Asked Wednesday about the prospect for a negotiated agreement on new maps, Gov. Mark Dayton threw out long odds.
“Somewhere between the Vikings winning the division and the Vikings winning the Super Bowl,” he said, aware of the team’s 1-6 start in a division that includes the undefeated Green Bay Packers. “But there’s always hope.”
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