Town hall brings attention to redistricting

ANIKA Foundation (l-r) Brett Buckner, Rep. Ilhan Omar. Sharon Sayles Belton and Anika Robbins

2020 is a milestone year. The census will take place in March through July, with presidential elections to follow in November—not to mention two primaries—one in March, and again, in August.

Redistricting will follow shortly after in 2021. District and ward lines are redrawn based on data from the 2020 census. These key dates and implications were highlighted in a town hall hosted by the group recently in the hopes of helping voters make the connection.

Minnesota has historically garnered high census participation—second in the nation—when it comes to Census “turnout.” Even still, Minnesota’s State Demographer’s office is projecting an undercount of approximately 970,000 statewide—with 96,000 in Hennepin County alone.

With census spending slashed by more than half, individual states, counties, cities, and nonprofits are exploring creative ways to engage residents to increase census participation. Especially in so-called, “Hard-to-Count” (HTC) communities.

Non-profits like The ANIKA Foundation have been working closely with policy-makers and other cultural community groups to devise outreach and engagement plans to reach HTCs. Hard to count communities are also often communities with low voter turnout. By providing workshops and education around census participation and voting, the agency hopes to see an increase in both.

“Numbers drive everything. It’s important to understand the relationship between completeing the census, voting in the upcoming election and subsequent decisions made based on those numbers as a result,” says Anika Robbins, president & CEO of the ANIKA Foundation.

“Someone in the community has to decide they’re going to pay attention to this at the granular level where it impacts what decisions get made at City Hall,” said Sharon Sayles Belton, former mayor of Minneapolis, and one of the featured panelists at the town hall.

Alluding to the role the Charter Commission will play in redrawing ward lines, the former mayor urged participants to get acquainted with members of the Charter Commission and follow the process to ensure accountability and prevent gerrymandering.

The Minneapolis Charter Commission is a state agency that exercises primary oversight of the city charter. It’s a delegation of a portion of the State’s central governing authority exercised at the local level. Its 15 members are appointed by the district court, acting through its chief judge.

“You really need to know who are going to get the census data and make decisions about how the wards are drawn in the City of Minneapolis,” continued Belton.

She noted significant changes to ward lines over the course of 40 years in the 8th Ward, which she previously represented during her City Council tenure. “Phillips ran down 36th Street. Today, that is no longer in the 8th ward. The heart and soul—half of Central Neighborhood—was ripped out.”

The timing of redistricting this time around is particularly challenging. The Charter Commission recommends two-year terms for City Council members to remain instep with the Kahn rule, requiring the City of Minneapolis to hold council elections soon after census-driven ward redistricting.

Opponents of the recommendation cite high election costs—to election administrators and candidates— along with the added pressure of balancing governance with campaigning every two years.

“It poses a challenge to administrate the current election. It forces current lines to be used right away. Traditionally, the city of Minneapolis would hold elections with the old city lines and use new lines two years later, “says Brett Buckner, executive director of OneMN.org and Board Chair of Common Cause.

The Commission is in favor of prolonging line-drawing to span 2021 and conclude by April 2022—roughly a year after the 2020 census data is released. “It’s a very difficult process if we’re to ensure all voices are heard succinctly,” continued Buckner. “It’s cumbersome on many levels.”

A total of $537 Billion dollars is distributed across the country based on census data. Minnesota gets about $15 billion—which funds federally-assisted programs operating in our community. It impacts housing, education, healthcare and more. “If you are upset about 1,000 kids in Hennepin County community waiting to get into Headstart, you need to get counted,” added Belton.

Census questionaire forms will arrive late March. Postcards alerting residents of the Census will go out the week of March 12.

—Information provided by ANIKA Foundation.