Written By: Sarah Mearhoff – West Central Tribune
ST. PAUL — Minnesota will retain all eight of its congressional districts for the next 10 years, barely snagging the final U.S. House seat in the U.S. Census Bureau’s apportionment of 435 districts across the country.
The U.S. Census Bureau released its long-awaited 2020 Census results on Monday, April 26. Experts had for months predicted Minnesota would lose one of its eight districts, but the North Star state barely snagged the final congressional seat.
Minnesota eked out New York state for the final congressional seat in the country. Kristin Koslap, a senior technical expert for the Census Bureau, said Monday that if New York had counted just 89 more people, they would have beat out Minnesota for seat number 435.
As of April 1, 2020, the Census estimates Minnesota’s population to be 5,706,494, up 7.6% from 2010. With eight districts, there will be approximately 714,000 Minnesotans per U.S. House member, lower than the national rate of approximately 761,000 Americans per House member.
Tim Lindberg, a political science assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, told Forum News Service that he was surprised by Monday’s news. He along with many others expected that Minnesota would lose a seat, and he knew the competition would be tight — but a difference of 89 respondents is historically close, he said.
Monday’s newly released population counts and apportionments from the Census Bureau kicks off the process of redrawing congressional district lines across the country, a task assigned to state Legislatures. In Minnesota, home to the nation’s only divided Legislature, the task may be referred to nonpartisan courts if Democrats and Republicans in St. Paul can’t agree.
Lindberg said Minnesota retaining its eighth district is a gamechanger for the map drawing process. Had Minnesota lost an eighth district, Lindberg said it would have all but guaranteed the process be handed over entirely to the courts.
“If we had lost a seat in Minnesota… how do you redraw the map?” he asked. “Do you really start from scratch and just throw out what has been roughly the Minnesota map for most of the 20th Century because you lose a seat?”
Already, Lindberg said Minnesota’s current map is logistically “stretched to its limits.” Congressional districts representing the dense and fast-growing metro area are teeny compared to the geographically massive first, seventh and eighth districts, which represent constituents spread across large swaths of rural fields and Northwoods.
With Monday’s news, Lindberg said it’s likely that Minnesota’s map stays essentially the same, with some counties or suburbs swapped between districts to balance out outsize growth in the metro. Legislative Democrats and Republicans may even be able to reach a consensus on the map instead of tossing it to the courts if they keep the outline largely the same, he said.
“I think that likelihood dropped quite a bit when we didn’t lose a seat,” he said.
State Demographer Susan Brower said in a Monday statement that losing a district “would have been a serious blow to the state.”
“Had Minnesota lost that seat, each of the remaining 7 districts would have had to grow by 102,000 people, setting off a complex realignment or redistricting of the state’s political map,” Brower said. “The impact in Greater Minnesota where the districts are already very large would have been especially difficult.”
Had Minnesota lost a seat, Lindberg said it would have likely been a rural, Republican-leaning district, potentially setting up a primary face-off between one of Minnesota’s four incumbent congressional Republicans: U.S. Representatives Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach or Pete Stauber. With the preservation of all eight districts, Lindberg said the incumbents and Republican party can take “a big sigh of relief” — ironically, thanks to growth in the left-leaning metro.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan in an afternoon statement signaled confidence in her party no matter how the new map looks.
“In the past two cycles, Republicans have flipped three congressional seats in Minnesota, including long-time DFL districts MN-01, -07, and -08,” she said. “No matter what the new districts look like, we are optimistic about our possibilities to flip even more seats in 2022.”
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin applauded Monday’s news, calling it “a testament to the people of Minnesota’s incredible commitment to civic engagement and democracy.”
“We stepped up, fought hard, and retained a seat in Congress that most observers thought we would lose,” he said.