For the first time in 40 years, barring a shocking
development when the 2020 United States Census is completed, the five Wright County
commissioner seats will not be subject to redistricting.
Redistricting is the process of redrawing political district
boundary lines based on population disparities. Under state statute, each of
the five commissioner districts must be within 10 percent of the county
average. For example, if Wright County had 100,000 residents, the average size
of a commissioner district would be 20,000. Under the formula in the statute,
no district could have more than 22,000 residents or less than 18,000.
Additionally, if redistricting is done and the
composition of the re-drawn commissioner district changes by more than 10
percent of the population that was in the previous district – cities and
townships being added or subtracted from a district to meet the first standard
of 10 percent above or below the average – that would automatically trigger an
election for the commissioner from that district in the next election cycle (1992,
2002, 2012, etc.).
Therein lay the problem for Wright County over the
last three census periods.
“The biggest problem we’ve had with commissioner
districts is that the growth of the county has been disproportionate,”
Commissioner Mike Potter said. “There has been sustained and continued growth
on the northwest side of the county and it has resulted in districts having to
be redrawn in order to make the numbers line up to meet the statute
The first time redistricting required all five
commissioners to run simultaneously was in 1992. In an effort to avoid the
potential of having five new commissioners coming on the board at the same
time, it was determined that two commissioner positions would be two-year terms
with the other three serving four-year terms to return to having staggered
The issue that resulted in the 1990 census-triggered
redistricting came back again in 2000 and 2010. As the population continued to
swell in the northeast corner of the county along the I-94 corridor, the 10 Percent
Rule forced commissioner districts to be redrawn after the census totals were
in. Both came with their fair share of controversy.
In 2002, Commissioner Ken Jude vehemently disputed the
redistricting option selected, because it completely reshaped his district more
than any other and removed his hometown of Maple Lake, where he had a strong
base of support. In 2012, the redistricting plan put four sitting commissioners
in two districts – Commissioners Pat Sawatzke and Rose Thelen in District 2 and
Commissioners Jack Russek and Dick Mattson in District 5.
However, when the redistricting was done in 2012, a
concerted effort was made to try to stop the 10-year tradition of re-dividing
the county five ways.
“They did a good job of realizing where the growth was
coming from,” Potter said. “When they drew out the new commissioner districts,
they made the ones with the slowest growth the largest by population and the
ones with the fastest growth the smallest, knowing that they would get closer
in population over the next decade.”
That has happened, but, in the 2019 State Demographer’s
Report, which serves as the official population numbers for cities and township
in between “Zero Year” census periods, all five commissioner districts were
still well within the 10 percent requirement. Barring a significant miscalculation
of population, the commissioner districts will remain the same until the
results of the 2030 census come in.
When 2030 rolls around, however, redistricting will
likely be required again, but for a different reason.
“By 2040, projections are that Wright County is going
to have a much greater population than we have now,” Potter said. “We could
have four cities in the county with populations of 30,000. Right now, St.
Michael is the largest city in the county at about 18,000. If those projections
hold true, we may have to go to a seven-member county board like most larger
counties do. If we don’t, we basically will have four commissioners representing
one of the large cities and maybe one or two other cities and townships and one
commissioner representing the entire rest of the county. I don’t think people
will want that. But, fortunately that isn’t a problem we’re going to have to
face for 10 years so, if having seven commissioners is going to be the
decision, there will be a lot of preparation that can go into it.”