Rochester, Olmsted County host first redistricting listening session

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(ABC 6 News) – The City of Rochester and Olmsted County teamed up for their first redistricting listening session Tuesday.

But what is redistricting?

And why do we need public input in the process?

Every 10 years we get new data from the U.S. Census Bureau on our area’s population. So, every 10 years we have to adjust district and ward lines within the state, city, and county depending on how much an area grew or declined The state redraws legislative districts first — affecting the United States House of Representatives. Then, the city redraws ward lines — affecting the city council. Finally, the county redraws district boundaries — affecting the county board of commissioners.

Rochester has grown almost 14 percent since 2010. Officials say we’ve also seen significant growth throughout Olmsted County

"In Olmsted County we know that there’s been enough change in the population that we’re going to see elections in all seven districts," Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch said.

Because of the growth, the county and the city are asking for public input on what they call, "communities of interest." Communities of interest is defined as groups based on race, ethnicity, income, or other factors likely to be affected by legislation.

"Are there communities of interest locally in Rochester, that we need to be concerned about so we’re not diluting?" Heather Heyer, a management analyst in the City of Rochester said.

Splitting up these groups into different wards or districts could reduce the impact they make in local government.

"It kind of comes down to access. To who your elected are, and making sure you have representation," Heyer said.

The city used to follow state redistricting statute. However, this year the Rochester League of Women Voters asked the City Council to adopt its own redistricting policy. The new policy explains communities of interest and has guidelines for drawing wards. It also requires maps and meeting information be made public.

"Our listening sessions are for the community to let us know what we need to be mindful of as we head into redistricting," Heyer said.

This is the first year the City of Rochester has it’s own redistricting policy. As of now the city hasn’t received any input on communities of interest in Rochester, but there are still 10 listening sessions left. City maps are finalized in March, and county maps are finalized in April.