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Pioneer Editorial: Let's find a better method of redistricting

Every 10 years when the results of the U.S. Census come around, congressional and legislative districts have to be redrawn to more or less balance the population in each district.

About 650,000 people live in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts. That means urban and suburban districts will be geographically tiny in comparison to the vast rural districts with sparse populations.

Traditionally, the redistricting process has turned up political heat as politicians hope to give one party or the other some kind of advantage. The word "gerrymander" was coined in 1812 by wordsmiths at the Boston Gazette. At that time, then Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry redrew a U.S. Senate district to favor his party. The outlines of the new district resembled a salamander, hence the cobbling together of "gerrymander."

The new map proposed by the Republican-dominated Minnesota House Redistricting Committee maintains the metro districts at about the same extent as during the last decade. However, instead of dividing central and northern Minnesota north to south as they are currently drawn, District 7 and District 8 are laid out with east-west boundaries. That means Duluth, the Iron Range, Bemidji's north central region and Moorhead would all be in the same district.

The economies and cultures of the proposed District 8 are based on widely diverse principles. From west to east, these are farming, logging, mining and shipping. The House Redistricting Committee would also split the Red River Valley, making flood control legislation more complicated.

The north-south districting currently in place stretches District 7 -which takes in most of Beltrami County - from the Canadian border to two counties north of Iowa.

No matter how the districts are to be drawn up, there will be a mix of interests among the constituents. But the process should not be political.

The proposed east-west span of District 7 would switch Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack into a heavily Republican district. And the proposed District 8 stretching across the northern tier of counties would switch Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson into a distinctly Democratic district. Peterson now serves District 7 and Cravaack serves District 8.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, is expected to veto the Republican redistricting plan.

Because it has been more than a century since Minnesota legislators and governors have agreed on a redistricting plan, the courts have drawn the new congressional and legislative maps.

The courts will probably again be called on to decide this decade's redistricting. And likely, whatever the ruling, disgruntlement will abound.

But there could be a better, non-political solution. A neutral, non-partisan committee could be formed and given the task of dividing up the state into relatively equal population chunks rather than a committee controlled by whichever is the dominant political party.