Last reviewed May 2019
Minnesota Issues Resource Guides
Overview of Reapportionment and Redistricting in Minnesota
This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.
Books and Reports • Articles • Internet Resources • Additional Library Resources
Drawing congressional and legislative district boundaries is a difficult political process. According to the Minnesota Constitution, article IV, sec. 3, "the legislature shall have the power to prescribe the bounds of congressional and legislative districts." It is "primarily a legislative responsibility; however, if the legislature fails to act after having adequate opportunity to do so the court should not allow elections under a constitutionally invalid scheme" (from Congressional and Legislative Reapportionment: A Legal History by House Research Department, 1970).
This guide provides a history and overview of reapportionment and redistricting process in Minnesota. Each decennial redistricting process has a unique history. More specific and detailed redistricting guides are available by decade: 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020.
"Reapportionment is the process of reassigning a given number of seats in a legislative body to established districts, usually in accordance with an established plan or formula. The number and boundaries of the districts do not change, but the number of members per district does" (see How to Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court).
According to the U.S. Constitution, article 2, section 2, the Census has one fundamental purpose: to ensure that the representation of each state is apportioned fairly in the 435 member U.S. House of Representatives according to population. Every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census to determine the population of each state, and then calculates the number of representatives based on a method of equal proportions. The representation of each state must reflect the relative size of its population as compared to other states. Minnesota has had eight congressional seats since the 1960 census.
Title 13, U.S. Code (section 141) requires that the apportionment population counts for each state be delivered to the President within nine months of the census date. In most 20th century censuses, the official census date has been April 1, meaning that the Office of the President received the counts by December 31 of each census year. The apportionment process does not affect U.S. Senate seats since each state has two senators, regardless of population.
After congressional reapportionment, the census population counts are used for redistricting congressional districts, legislative districts, and local government districts. Constitutional and statutory requirements include standards for using census data to make districts evenly proportioned.
After reapportionment has been determined, redistricting is the next step. "Redistricting is the process of changing district boundaries. The number of members per district does not change, but the districts' boundaries do" (see How to Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court). Each of Minnesota's 67 Senate districts includes within its boundaries two House districts for a total of 134 House districts and a combined total of 201 state legislative districts.
The process begins when proposed redistricting plans are drafted and proposed (often as a congressional redistricting bill and a legislative redistricting bill) with the goal of coming to consensus on plans that meets the technical requirements of law. These plan proposals lay out specific legal boundaries for each district. Plans are then introduced as bills, which go through the traditional legislative process and must be approved and signed by the Governor. The finalized plan must also stand up to any court challenges. The statutory deadline (Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.14) for new congressional and legislative districts is twenty-five weeks before the primary election because the plans must be decided early enough to give sufficient time to prepare for the state elections in November of the year ending in two.
"Once the Legislature has passed a redistricting bill, the Governor will have the option of signing it or vetoing it. If he signs the bill, redistricting has been accomplished. If he vetoes the bill, the Legislature might vote to override the veto. If the veto withstands an override attempt, a new bill must be written, passed and sent to the Governor" (see Fact Sheet on Reapportionment and Redistricting by Tom Gillaspy, Minnesota's State Demographer, 2000).
Minnesota's nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission is responsible for assisting the legislature in carrying out its redistricting responsibilities under Minnesota Statutes, section 2.91. New Congressional and Legislative districts must be determined early enough to give sufficient time to prepare for the state primary elections in November of the year ending in two. The statutory deadline (Minnesota Statutes, section 204B.14) is twenty-five weeks before the November election. If the Legislature is not able to adopt a plan by the statutory deadline, the matter is referred to the courts.
Principles and guidance for drawing a successful plan are found in a 2009 Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis treatise, How to Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court by Peter Wattson.
Role of the Courts
If the legislature is unable to pass the redistricting bills, the courts may impose a plan until the legislature can pass one. Furthermore, any resident who believes their district to be mal-apportioned can bring a suit to court to require a plan. Minnesota's congressional and legislative plans have often been challenged in the courts. "Although the courts decided cases affecting redistricting in the early half of the 1900's, the courts became much more involved in redistricting starting in 1950 and continue to be involved today" (see the History of Minnesota Legislative Redistricting by Alexis C. Stangl and Matt Gehring, Minnesota Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis and House Research, 2018).
Minnesota's congressional and legislative plans have often been referred to the courts. According the History of Minnesota Legislative Redistricting and the History of Minnesota Congressional Redistricting by Alexis C. Stangl and Matt Gehring, courts have played a more significant role in the legislative redistricting process since 1950 and have drawn congressional plans since 1980. For more background on the roles of state courts and federal courts in redistricting litigation, see Chapter V, Prepare to Defend Your Plan in Both State and Federal Courts, from the treatise How to Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court.
Once legislative districts are established, local units of government with districts apportioned by population must also redistrict themselves. When all the districts have been determined, boundaries for election precincts are set. The Minnesota Redistricting Guide for County, City, Township, and School District Officials by the Secretary of State's Office explains the process and outlines legal responsibilities of both local officials and the Office of the Secretary of State.
Significant Books and Reports
(See the specific redistricting guides by decade for more reports about this process: 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020.)
Congressional and Legislative Reapportionment: A Legal History. St. Paul: Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, 1970.
Gehring, Matt. Minnesota Redistricting Process: A Historical Overview. St. Paul: Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, 2011. (JK6168 G44 2011)
Gehring, Matt. Voting Rights Act Overview. St. Paul: Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, 2011.
Redistricting Guide. St. Paul: Minnesota Secretary of State. (JK6168 .R43 2011)
Redistricting Law 2010. Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislatures, 2009. (KF4905.R42 2009)
Stangl, Alexis C., and Gehring, Matt. History of Minnesota Congressional Redistricting. St. Paul: Minnesota Legislature, Senate Counsel and Research and House Research Department, 2018. (JK1343.M6 S73 2018)
Stangl, Alexis C., and Gehring, Matt. History of Minnesota Legislative Redistricting. St. Paul: Minnesota Legislature, Senate Counsel and Research and House Research Department, 2018. (JK6168 .S73 2018)
Wattson, Peter. Districting Principles in Minnesota Courts. St. Paul: Peter S. Wattson, 2018. (JK6168 .W388 2018)
Wattson, Peter. Enacting a Redistricting Plan. St. Paul: Minnesota Senate, Office of Senate Counsel and Research, 1997. (KF4905.W38 1997)
Wattson, Peter. History of Minnesota Redistricting. St. Paul: Peter S. Wattson, 2019. (JK6168 .W39 2019)
Wattson, Peter. How to Draw Redistricting Plans That Will Stand Up in Court. St. Paul: Minnesota Senate, Office of Senate Counsel and Research, 2010. (JK1341.W382 2010)
(articles in reverse chronological order)
Zamarripa, Christi. "Redistricting: Piece by Piece: There's Still Time to Learn the Basics of Redistricting Before You Tackle the Really Tough Stuff." State Legislatures, March/April 2019.
Boese, Brandon L. "The Controversy of Redistricting in Minnesota." William Mitchell Law Review, Vol. 39: Issue 4, Article 10, 2013.
Schultz, David. "A Short History of Redistricting in Minnesota." Politics in Minnesota, December 7, 2011.
Shaw, Charlie. "Redistricting Has Been a Mess in Each of the Past Four Decades." Politics in Minnesota, October 6, 2010.
Lahammer, Gene. "Congressional Redistricting Anguish has Long History in Minnesota." Politics in Minnesota, January 29, 2010.
Significant Internet Resources
Congressional Apportionment and History: Title 13, U.S. Code - U.S. Census Bureau.
Elections & Redistricting - From the Minnesota House Research Department.
NCSL's Redistricting Webpage - "Serves as a table of contents for NCSL's comprehensive information on redistricting data, law, technology and process."
Redistricting - From the Minnesota Legislature's Geographic Information Systems office (Includes maps).
Redistricting - Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.
Redistricting Case Summaries - From the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Additional Library Resources
For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use these Library catalog searches:
Apportionment (Minnesota); Redistricting (Minnesota).
For further information on redistricting see: