Wright County looks well positioned to avoid redistricting in 2022

Since 1790, the United States has conducted a census to determine the population of every city and township in the country. Every 10 years since, those populations have been updated. However, in between those 10-year cycles, population increases or decreases are estimated by the State Demographer’s Office.

At the June 25 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Wright County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala presented the annual demographer’s estimates for the population, citing that the county’s population grew by 1,237 people.

“These are the official numbers that are used for funding and programs based upon population,” Hiivala said. “They’re estimates, but they’re as accurate a count as we can get between the census periods every 10 years.”

Redistricting has been the source of wide debate and hurt feelings the last two times it happened. Following the 2000 census, the board had to redistrict and the selection chosen took Commissioner Ken Jude’s hometown of Maple Lake out of his new district. Following the 2010 census, the redistricting choice that was made placed two sitting commissioners – Pat Sawatzke and Rose Thelen – to run against one another and there would have been a second head-to-head commissioner election showdown between Commissioners Jack Russek and Dick Mattson, but Russek decided not to run for re-election if it meant going up against his fellow commissioner.

The result of the 2010 census left two commissioner districts without a sitting commissioner – District 1, which was eventually won by Commissioner Christine Husom, and District 3, which was eventually won by Commissioner Mark Daleiden.

The rationale was simple and forward-thinking. To avoid a third straight redistricting that would require all five commissioners to run for re-election in 2022, the county board selected a redistricting plan that made the fastest growing district (District 3) the smallest and the slowest growing district (District 1) the largest. To date, that plan has worked out perfectly more than six years since the last census.

In order to require redistricting, the size of the commissioner districts would need to be more than 20 percent different than the average size per district – either above 110 percent of average or less than 90 percent of average. Using the current numbers, the average size of a district is 26,520 – with 110 percent of that being 29,172 and 90 percent of that average being 23,877. Currently, the closest district to the current top threshold is District 1, which is almost 1,400 residents below the current line and have added less than 1,100 residents over the last six years. The smallest district is District 4, which is more than 1,100 residents above the bottom threshold and growing faster than the other district average.

“There was some thought that, given the redistricting that had to take place twice in a row after census periods, there should be consideration given to where the county was growing its most in population,” Hiivala said. “When the commissioner districts were drawn up in 2012, it was definitely taken into consideration.”

The key to making the 2012 redistricting successful is that it foresaw the disproportionate growth of District 3, which include Otsego and half of St. Michael. The State Demographer has estimated Otsego to have grown by 2,448 residents – more than double the growth of three of the other four commissioner districts by itself and almost 1,000 more than the other fastest growing district (District 5).

District 3 was intentionally designed to be markedly smaller. At the time, it contained 22,742 residents – the very lowest end of the commissioner district size and almost 4,300 less than the largest district (District 1). Six years later, those two districts are now less than 2,500 people apart and the gap continues to shrink.

While Wright County continues to grow, at least the county isn’t going to have to worry about yet another slate-cleaning of commissioner districts.

“It was the hope at the time we did the last redistricting that we wouldn’t have to do full redistricting again,” Hiivala said. “It’s good to hear that it’s looking like we won’t have to it again after the next census.”

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.