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Newly released data from the 2020 U.S. census shows the bulk of Minnesota’s population growth over the past decade took place in the Twin Cities metro. The seven counties in the core metro grew by 11 percent over the past decade, adding more than 300,000 people. A collection of exurban counties on the metro’s fringe grew by 9 percent. The entire rest of the state grew by a total of 2.6 percent — less than 10 percent of the state’s total growth.
That covers up some fast-growing counties in greater Minnesota, like Rochester’s Olmsted County (12.9 percent growth) or Moorhead’s Clay County (10.7 percent growth). But many rural counties actually lost population over the past decade.
The growth in Minnesota’s metro population has been paralleled by a growth in Minnesotans of color. Ten years ago, 83 percent of Minnesotans were white. Now that’s down to just over 76 percent, with Black, Hispanic and Asian Minnesotans all making up a bigger share of the state’s population than 10 years ago.
Minnesota’s population growth in this census exceeded expectations, helping the state keep its eight congressional seats by the skin of its teeth. Had the census counted 89 more New Yorkers, or just 26 fewer Minnesotans, Minnesota would have lost its last seat to New York.
Those unexpected Minnesotans were largely in and around the Twin Cities metro, along with a few urban centers in greater Minnesota. That means Minnesota’s 8th District — in the northeastern part of the state — was saved largely because more people moved to the Twin Cities.
Redistricting to shift state’s political balance
More Minnesotans living in the Twin Cities metro will soon mean more political representation for the metro. Every 10 years, states redraw their congressional and legislative districts to make sure each district has about the same number of people.
The 2020 census shows three of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts have too few people: the largely rural 1st, 7th and 8th districts. That means their borders will need to be adjusted to add more residents. The five districts in and around the Twin Cities, meanwhile, have too many people and will need to have parts of their territory shifted to other districts.
In some cases, that will be relatively simple. The south-suburban 2nd District has about 19,000 too many residents, while the adjacent 1st District, covering southern Minnesota, has about 23,000 too few residents. If the redistricting process hews closely to existing boundaries, then it may simply move outlying parts of the 2nd District into the 1st.
Other parts of redistricting will be more complex. For example, the 5th District, centered on Minneapolis, has too many people and will need to lose territory to adjacent districts. But all of its adjoining districts also have too many people, thus setting off a chain reaction as districts gain and lose territory until populations are roughly equal.
This seems likely to make the suburban 2nd and 3rd districts more Democratic, as they add voters from the inner metro and lose rural and exurban voters.
Ordinarily redistricting is a job for the state Legislature and governor. But because it’s possible to draw district maps that heavily favor one political party or another, Democrats and Republicans usually have not been able to agree on district maps for the state. With the Minnesota House under DFL control and the Senate controlled by Republicans, a stalemate is likely this year, too. That will likely mean the courts resolve an array of lawsuits by drawing their own map — as has happened in Minnesota in 2010, 2000, 1990 and indeed every single redistricting here since 1966.
Whether the courts or lawmakers draw Minnesota’s new maps, it’s likely to reshape the Legislature. Almost all districts in greater Minnesota have too few people and need to consolidate, leading to fewer rural legislative districts. The metro area — especially fast-growing suburbs — will end up with more districts.
Of the state’s 67 Senate districts, for example, the only ones in greater Minnesota that have too many people right now are those centered on the regional centers of Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead.
This could have implications for control of the Legislature. Of those fast-growing Senate districts, Democrats currently control 18 seats against 13 for Republicans. Of the slow-growing or shrinking districts that will need to grow or consolidate, Republicans and Republican-aligned independents control 23 against 12 for Democrats.
It’s not a guarantee that judicial redistricting will help either party on net, though some incumbent lawmakers are likely to find themselves redrawn to face a significantly different electorate.
The 134-member Minnesota House has a similar situation, with growth in the metro and regional centers and slow-growing districts everywhere else.
On a partisan basis, House Republicans control many of the fastest- and slowest-growing districts, while Democrats represent many districts that are closer to the target population for House districts next year.
Whoever ends up drawing Minnesota’s new political maps, they’re expected to be in place for the 2022 elections.