Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Feb. 11, 2002

All five Wright commissioners likely to face elections after redistricting

By John Holler
Wright County Correspondent

In November, Commissioners Pat Sawatzke, Dick Mattson, and Elmer Eichelberg were all scheduled to face election challenges.

However, it's becoming apparent that all five commissioners will have to face election races, since pending redistricting will result is substantial changes to three or more commissioner districts.

The county can't do commissioner redistricting until the state completes it legislative redistricting, which is expected to be completed at mid- to late March. But, with census numbers already in, it's clear that changes will need to be made.

"I'd be surprised if all five commissioner districts don't come up for election this fall," Auditor/Treasurer Doug Gruber said. "The formula for redistricting is pretty well defined and the numbers don't add up at this point."

Under the rules of redistricting, the first number that comes forward is the district average. After the 1990 census, Wright County had a population of 68,700.

See population chart (PDF)

Ten years later, that figure is now 89,986 ­ an increase of 31 percent and a new district average of 17,997. State law requires that each district be within 10 percent ­ above or below ­ that figure, which ranges from 16,197 to 19,797. However, the rules also ask that the numbers be as close as possible.

"That's where the question is going to come in," Gruber said. "In 1990, the numbers worked out pretty well. With the growth of the county primarily along I-94, the numbers now are a little out of whack."

In 1990, the difference between the most and least populated districts was just 659 people, with four commissioner districts being within 304 of each other. But this time around, the playing field is quite different.

District 4, represented by Eichelberg, has ballooned from the third smallest district to the largest at 22,143 ­ meaning that district will have to be trimmed by a minimum of 2,350 people and more likely in excess of 3,000.

Meanwhile, District 5 (Mattson) is at 16,018 ­ almost 200 under the minimum district size allowed ­ and District 1 (Ken Jude) is 16,386 ­ less than 200 inside the allowable guidelines.

Changing commissioner districts is difficult because any commissioner district must be attached ­ "you can't have a part of a district 'out on an island," Jude said. So, to add one township or city to one district may result in a tradeoff of another city or township in exchange.

The only district that looks at face value most likely to remain unchanged is District 2 (Sawatzke), which is at 18,409 ­ well within the 10 percent guidelines. But, the 10 percent numbers aren't the only numbers that could result in Jude and Board Chair Jack Russek facing a re-election bid in November. There's also the 5 percent rule that comes into play.

"In counties like ours, the 5 percent rule will probably come into play," Gruber said. "If, in getting a district into the range of the other four districts, you have to add or take away a city or township, you count everyone that comes in and everyone that goes out. If that total is at or above 5 percent of the total of your district, then you have to go through an election."

Using that formula, if a commissioner does an exchange with another commissioner by adding a township of 1,000 people in exchange for one of 300 people to bring up one total and lower another total to bring both districts within the 10 percent guideline, both commissioners would have a district that has 1,300 people that have moved in or out.

If their districts were at 18,000 each, the 1,300 displaced people would be as difference of 7.2 percent ­ requiring a new election. Using the average district size of 17,997, if a district adds and/or subtracts as few as 900 people, that will require a new election.

"I think there is a way to do it without (Russek) and I having to run again," Jude said. "But, it's going to be something we deal with when it comes the county's turn."

If Jude and Russek have to face a November election, it will mean that they will have to face three elections in a four-year span.

Due to laws that stagger commissioner terms, Jude and Russek faced elections in 2000 and, regardless of whether they win election in November, would face another election in 2004. The other three commissioner seats will run through 2006.

While lobbying efforts may be made to avoid additional elections as well as attempts to try to retain constituencies, if the intent of the redistricting is to get all five commissioner districts as close in population as realistically possible, it seems almost sure that all five commissioners will be running this fall.

"When you look at how different the numbers are and what it will take to get them all close, it seems to me that all the commissioners will be up for election," Gruber said. "If past history of trying to get the districts close means anything, it's going to be tough not to."

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