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Monday, May 14, 2012

Judge to make decision this week on Meeker Co. redistricting

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

MEEKER COUNTY, MN – The redistricting saga in Meeker County remains in limbo as the judge reviews the case between Mike Housman and the Meeker County Commissioners.

Judge Steven Drange heard both sides Thursday during a hearing that will decide whether or not the new plan the commissioners adopted two days prior is acceptable.

The newly adopted plan, known as Plan 4A, puts Darwin city and township with Litchfield wards 2, 3, and 4 in District 1; and Litchfield wards 1 and 5 with Forest City, Harvey, and Litchfield Townships into District 2.

This plan was one of four reviewed by the county commissioners, who passed the nine “findings of fact” criteria County Attorney Stephanie Beckman used, which had also been used by other counties in the redistricting process.

Though it was stated at the county board meeting that all the plans had their strengths and weaknesses, Plan 4A was said to have more room for projected growth in wards 1 and 5, a factor Beckman noted in court.

Housman argued that future growth was not permissible, and that it was more important that districts be nearly equal in population, suggesting the two other plans did this better.

The judge agreed with Beckman that future growth should be taken into consideration as a way to prevent this process from having to take place 10 years from now.

Housman also argued against the criteria for a plan that places incumbents in districts that allow voter continuity, and minimizes the contest between incumbents, allowing for more voter choice. He said this was not a valid principle and instead, was protecting the incumbents.

He said the plan should be set with a blind eye to where the commissioners live in the district.

The judge noted that all the commissioner seats are open, and that it would be speculative to assume they all are running and therefore can’t be termed “incumbents.” He also stated there are other reasons, that aren’t political, as to maintaining continuity.

Housman preferred his plan, known as 6R, be adopted; or 4B, which was “second at best,” he said.

He suggested Plan 4B to be more equal in population among the districts.

It was noted that 4B is as compact, a factor in the commissioners’ decision against the plan, by having Litchfield wards 2 and 4 with Darwin, and the townships of Darwin, Harvey, and Forest City.

Housman argued that equality was more important than compactness.

Plan 6R put wards 1 and 2 into the same district as the city of Darwin, and the townships of Darwin, Forest City, and Harvey. It was later discovered that there is a 92-acre island that belongs in Litchfield Township.

The judge didn’t believe this meets the definition of contiguous; having voters drive through a different precinct to get to the voting booth.

Housman said he would like to see that investigated more and that a plan be made through a redistricting committee.

However, the need for a redistricting committee could be deterred, he said, if the judge would choose either Plan 6R or 4B.

Judge Drange stated he had concerns going against “second-guessing” the county commissioners, and didn’t see there was much more work that could be done.

Housman also referred to various mathematical data he used to determine the plans he made.

Beckman argued that if redistricting was about mathematical equations, “we wouldn’t need the commissioners to decide,” adding that there are other factors that need to be considered.

She also explained that the commissioners did what the judge requested and reviewed each of the plans based on the criteria.

The judge is expected to make a decision sometime this week.

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