Herald Journal, July 26, 2004
County attorney responds to lawsuit over redistricting
By Gail Lipe
Redistricting, or more correctly, not redistricting, has McLeod County headed to court.
A lawsuit was filed against the county by Douglas Krueger, alleging the county has disenfranchised citizens, denied citizens the right to vote and the freedom of speech because of how the county districts are set up.
It claims that since 1992, Hutchinson has control of the county board because it has three county commissioners representing it. The city is divided into three precincts, which fit into three county commissioner districts. The majority of the population in each of those commissioner districts is from Hutchinson.
Mike Junge, McLeod County attorney, told the board of commissioners on Tuesday that in the lawsuit, citizens are classified as rural, Glencoe and Hutchinson, and it claims that rural and Glencoe citizens are discriminated against because of the way the county districts are set up.
“The only place I have seen those kind of classifications is in racial situations,” said Junge.
The lawsuit also states that the county has denied citizens the right to vote and the freedom of speech, he said. “I don’t believe the county has done that.”
The county board heard that Krueger is asking for the court to determine that the current county commissioner districts violate the Minnesota Constitution and to prohibit any further elections under the current districts.
It is also requesting that the court order new precinct boundaries for the city of Hutchinson and new boundaries for county commissioner districts.
“It is asking the court not to allow the November elections to take place,” said Junge. “I have never seen that happen.”
He said, if the court takes any action on the elections, it is his opinion that it will probably order what is currently going on to continue until the matter is settled.
Named defendants in the lawsuit were McLeod County, County Auditor Cindy Schultz, the city of Hutchinson and Hutchinson City Administrator Gary Plotz.
Junge said he is responsible for responding on behalf of the county and for Schultz, but not the city of Hutchinson or Plotz.
The suit was filed July 13, and a response has to be filed within 20 days.
According to the suit filed in McLeod County District Court on July 13, McLeod County’s official population was 34,898 based on the 2000 U.S. Census, and the county was required to redistrict within 80 days of the state’s redistricting, which the Legislature approved in March 2002.
The county adopted its redistricting plan in May 2002, with the ideal commissioner district population set at 6,980.
The five county commissioner districts were divided as follows: District One, 7,057; District Two, 7,189; District Three, 6,731; District Four, 7,037; and District Five, 6,884.
The suit claims the county has two larger cities, Hutchinson and Glencoe, but remains primarily rural.
The census stated Hutchinson had 13,080 people and Glencoe 5,453, with 16,365 residing in rural areas.
Based on those population figures, Hutchinson is entitled to 1.87 county commissioners; Glencoe .78 commissioner; and the rural areas 2.34 commissioners.
It stated, under the 2002 county redistricting plan “the citizens of the rural areas of McLeod County are underrepresented, while the citizens of Hutchinson are overrepresented. The votes of the rural citizens and the citizens of Glencoe are thus unlawfully diluted under the 2002 McLeod County redistricting plan.”
The suit further claims that state statutes require precincts not be split. Yet in 1992, Hutchinson redrew its precinct boundaries, creating three precincts from the previous five. That plan was adopted on Jan. 14, 1992.
The suit claims, “The city of Hutchinson intentionally redrew its precinct boundaries in 1992 to maximize its representation on the McLeod County Board, and to unlawfully discriminate against the rest of McLeod County.”
It added the Hutchinson precinct revisions put one precinct into three separate county commissioner districts. “Each Hutchinson precinct contained a sufficient population to comprise a majority of its county commissioner district.
“Thus, commencing in 1993, the city of Hutchinson controlled three of McLeod County’s five county commissioner districts.”
The 2002 redistricting plan was nearly identical to the 1992 plan, the suit claims, and Hutchinson continued to control three commissioner districts.
“The McLeod County Board acted intentionally in 1992 and again in 2002 to maximize Hutchinson’s representation and to unlawfully discriminate against and dilute the votes of the citizens of the rest of McLeod County and to grant permanent control of the county board to those residents residing in Hutchinson.”
The suit states that the rural residents and the citizens of Glencoe “are distinct from the interests of the citizens of the city of Hutchinson.
“The political influence of the rural citizens of McLeod County and the citizens of Glencoe has continuously and consistently been intentionally diminished by the current redistricting scheme and by its 1991 predecessor.
“The majority of voters reside in the rural areas and in Glencoe. However, the will of the majority of McLeod County’s voters has been consistently and continuously frustrated for the past 12 years due to the defendants’ 1992 and 2002 redistricting schemes.”
The suit claimed the normal political process has not been able to remedy the situation, because the three districts containing Hutchinson precincts “have elected county commissioners who are favorable to the interests of Hutchinson and antithetical to the interests of the rest of the county. These commissioners have consistently voted to support projects in Hutchinson and to postpone or not approve public projects for the rest of the county.” It claimed many of those votes were 3-2.
The suit claims the three Hutchinson commissioner districts totally control the county board, frustrating the majority of the county’s residents. “They have used their power in an abusive manner to continuously discriminate against the citizens of the rest of McLeod County.”
The lawsuit alleges three violations of Minnesota statutes and asks the court to determine the county board’s redistricting plans in violation of the state Constitution; issue an injunction prohibiting any further elections under the county’s 2002 redistricting plan; require the defendants to create and adopt new precinct boundaries in the city of Hutchinson and new county commissioner districts that do not discriminate against the rest of the county; and for the court to deem just and proper that the defendants pay for the legal costs of the plaintiff and his attorney’s fees.