State’s new election districts produced no upsets

State of Minnesota
MFN

A special five-judge panel released new Minnesota congressional and legislative maps in February that many believe will set the state and national political playing field for the next 10 years. With such redistricting leading to heated controversy and court challenges around the country, how have Minnesota’s new election boundaries fared so far?

According to the APM Research Lab, a non-partisan team of researchers, the newly redrawn boundaries would not drastically change election outcomes. The 2022 midterms elections results ultimately bore this out. 

All key state offices that were up for election did not change hands as all Minnesota Democrat incumbents won reelection. Additionally, both the Minnesota House and Senate in January will be controlled by the DFL for the first time since 2013, as well as the governor’s office.

The MSR recently asked APM Research Lab Managing Director Craig Helmstetter to shed some light on the oft-mentioned “red state, blue state, purple state” references in mainstream media accounts leading up to the November elections.

“When people talked about districts being red or blue,” explained Helmstetter, “it’s simply based on past voting records. If the Republican usually wins by, let’s say, 85% or more, they consider that a solid red or solid Republican district.”

APM Research Lab pointed out the new Minnesota district boundaries in the following manner:

  • Democrat if the district favored Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020
  • Republican if the district favored Trump in both 2016 and 2020
  • Split if the district favored Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020

    Election results data comes from the Minnesota Secretary of State office, Helmstetter explained. “They released data down to the precinct level that shows how you know individual jurisdictions in the state voted,” he pointed out.

While many local political pundits predicted a Democratic sweep of the top statewide offices—governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor—“these statewide races typically do go Democrat,” Helmstetter said. “That’s why Minnesota is typically considered a blue state.” But he admitted it wasn’t as widely predicted that the Minnesota Legislature would go blue as well.

“It’s not so typical that during an election like this, that both the Senate and the House would be won by a majority of Democrats,” Helmstetter said.

Population shifts as noted by the 2020 U.S. Census also play a role in how districts will vote in elections, Helmstetter continued. “People move over time, and there’s different migration patterns. In our state, for example, more people are moving out of rural areas and into suburban areas and urban areas. So, we had to redraw those boundaries to accommodate those changes.  

“Some people consider the boundaries relatively fair here in Minnesota compared to other parts of the country where they’re really dominated by one party or another.”

Craig Helmstetter

He cited Texas as an example: “Texas is a pretty diverse state, and there are a lot of Democrats in the state, but the Republicans have so much control… They’ve exercised a lot of control in drawing the new boundaries to the advantage of the Republicans.”

On the flip side, Helmstetter used the example of the Fifth Congressional District, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar easily won reelection with over 75% of the votes. She has represented the district, which includes Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, since 2019, a district that has typically leaned Democratic for several decades.

“It’s really highly unlikely that someone from a different party is going to get elected in the Fifth Congressional District,” Helmstetter predicted. “[Because] the voting record of the district is so heavily Democrats, it’s just extremely unlikely that a Republican or someone from any other party is going to get elected.”

As a result, we asked Helmstetter if the media’s ‘red state-blue state’ reporting can have an adverse effect on voter turnout, especially among Blacks and communities of color. “If we just talk about this district or that district already destined to go for a Republican or a Democrat, that probably doesn’t do us a lot of good in terms of encouraging people to get involved,” Helmstetter admitted.  

“There are a lot of issues that are super important and that deserve a lot of attention. The problem is that the other stuff is sexier than what the school district’s budget is, or the city council’s latest policy, but these are things that ultimately do impact our daily lives.”

APM Research Lab is currently working on a post-election project: “We’re actually working on a national survey that asks people about their experiences voting and to see whether people felt they had an easy time to vote or were discriminated against or whatever,” Helmstetter said.

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