Final court-drawn plans that make minimal changes to current Minnesota congressional districts were released February 21, 2012, following nearly a year of stalemate between DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-held legislature that failed to produce a mutually agreeable map.
Given the lack of population growth and absence of Voting Rights Act problems with the 2002 Districts, the Court preserved most existing boundaries by adapting what it called “a least-change plan to the extent possible.” The map contains the same basic structure as 2002: the northeastern 8th, the western 7th, and the southern 1st district, three metro districts, and one district for each St. Paul and Minneapolis. The outer districts made simple changes that tended to follow county lines while the more densely populated inner districts required more complicated shifts that did not always coincide with pre-existing boundaries.
The most notable of the plan’s changes places the residence of Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann within the heavily Democratic District 4 with DFL Congresswoman Betty McCollum. McCollum, who won her seat with a 59% majority in 2010, would likely win in a head-to-head race against Bachmann in the new District. However, voters are unlikely to see such a race; Congress has no district residency requirement and Bachmann has already announced that that she intends to run in the sixth district, calling it “essentially unchanged” from the constituency that she currently serves. According to an interview conducted by The Hill, Bachmann has not yet decided whether she will remain in her current home or move into the new District 6. Bachmann is the only congressional incumbent moved by the new map – all other incumbents remain within their current districts.
District 1 picks up eighteen thousand in population by taking La Sueur County and parts of Rice County to the North while giving up Cottonwood, Murray, and Pipestone Counties in the West and Wabasha County in the North Eastern part of the district. These shifts do little to change the Partisan Voting Index numbers, leaving DFL incumbent Tim Waltz competitive for re-election.
District 2 loses nearly seventy thousand constituents by taking Wabasha County in exchange for Le Seuer and the Eastern half of Rice County taken by District 1. This shift swings this southern suburbs district from 48.3% to 50.5% for Obama in 2008, putting pressure on Republican John Kline and making this a potentially competitive district.
District 3’s population increased by almost thirteen thousand with its expansion into Carver County, where it adds Chanhassen, Chaska, Victoria, Laketown, and parts of Dahlgren. This move gives Republicans a 1.4 percent gain, putting the district at 51% for Obama and giving Republican incumbent Eric Paulsen some a better shot at re-election.
District 4 added forty-eight thousand people by pulling its eastern boundary all the way to the state line. This move, while giving the fourth district a large portion of conservative Washington County, does not significantly impact the district’s political leaning. Heavily Democratic St. Paul keeps the fourth district’s Obama percentage at 62.6%, making it an easy win for incumbent Betty McCollum and the DFL. It is no surprise that Bachmann is choosing to run elsewhere.
District 5 added forty-seven thousand almost entirely through population growth. The district remains heavily Democratic, putting no significant pressure on Democrat Keith Ellison, who won with 68% of the vote in 2010.
District 6 had to give up ninety-six thousand constituents, forcing it to concede portions of Washington County (including Republican Representative Michelle Bachmann’s Stillwater home) in exchange for a portion of Carver County. The district went from 44.6% to 43.2% Obama, ensuring an easy seat for Bachmann in 2012.
District 7 picked up an additional thirty-seven thousand residents by taking Pipestone and Murray counties along with half of Cottonwood County in the Southwestern portion of the state. This move shifts incumbent Collin Peterson’s (D) district from 47.4% to 47.1% Obama, hardly any change at all.
District 8, probably the closest watched district in this redistricting cycle, remains virtually unchanged, with a modest addition of around three thousand in population after its advance further into Beltrami County, to the edge of the Red Lake Indian Reservation. This move was a loss for the Republicans, who were hoping to see the district changed to represent the northern third of the state. The addition of Beltrami County had no effect on the district’s partisan voting index, which remains steady at 53.1% Obama. Though the district leans Democratic, it will remain one of the most competitive in Minnesota. Republican incumbent Chip Cravaack, who won the 2010 election with 48% of the votes, will likely have a close race in 2012. It appears this district will remain competitive for the foreseeable future.
Overall, 2012’s congressional maps seem to have done very little to change Minnesota’s political scene. While the competitive 8th district may go the way of the Democrats, the remaining seven districts will likely continue their past political leanings. It looks like Minnesotans will have to wait until the release of the 2020 census for any real excitement –projections are that Minnesota will be losing a congressional seat, requiring the state to rethink its districts entirely.
An interactive map displaying the new boundaries and political demographics for Minnesota can be found at the MINNPOST, here.
PVI Statistics provided by The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman