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Crow Wing County commissioner districts will change soon

The population of Crow Wing County grew by 3,623 residents between 2010 and 2020 to a total of 66,123 people, according to census data. Divided equally by five, the population of each commissioner district would ideally be 13,225 people.

A map shows the 2012 boundaries of commissioner districts in Crow Wing County
A map shows the county commissioner districts as they exist before redistricting occurs later this spring 2022.
Contributed / Crow Wing County

BRAINERD — Changes are coming to County Board representation for some Crow Wing residents as part of once-in-a-decade redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Boundary changes will be necessary to equalize populations between the five commissioner districts, Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said during the March 8 board meeting.

Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson
Crow Wing County Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson

“Basically, we have to try to make our districts as equal in population as possible and it cannot vary from 10% of what the average population is,” Erickson said.

The population of Crow Wing County grew by 3,623 residents between 2010 and 2020 to a total of 66,123 people, according to census data. Divided equally by five, the population of each commissioner district would ideally be 13,225 people. State statute allows populations between districts to vary from that average, given a number of other principles and standards must be considered in redrawing the lines — but not by more than 10%.

Considerations in redistricting include following voter precinct lines and achieving districts that are contiguous, regular in form and as compact as possible. The majority of the districts may not have a minority of the population — meaning the commissioner districts with the three smallest populations must together combine for a majority of the county’s population.

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Populations in three of the five commissioner districts fall outside of the 10% threshold, or between 11,902 and 14,548 people, meaning boundaries must shift to equalize representation. Commissioner districts 2 and 4 both exceed the upper limit of that range, while District 5 needs at least 450 people added to its population.

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District 2, represented by Commissioner Bill Brekken, covers the northwest portion of the county — including the cities of Crosslake, Jenkins, Breezy Point, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa — and is home to 14,757 people. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen represents District 4, which includes the two northern Baxter precincts, the northernmost Brainerd precinct, two of the three Unorganized Territory precincts and Lake Edward Township. The current population of that district is 14,916.

District 5 as it stands is the least populated district in the county, with 11,452 people. Represented by Chairman Doug Houge, it covers the northeast and east-central areas, including the cities of Crosby, Cuyuna, Deerwood, Emily, Fifty Lakes, Ironton, Manhattan Beach, Riverton and Trommald.

While three of the five commissioner seats are already set to be up for election this year — those occupied by Brekken, Franzen and Commissioner Steve Barrows — changes to district boundaries could prompt the other two seats to go before the voters again in a special election, two years earlier than anticipated.

New elections would be required if the boundary changes result in a 5% population shift when combining the total number of people shifted in or out. The magic number in the case of Crow Wing is 661 people, or 5% of 13,225. If all five are on the 2022 ballot, it would need to be determined who would serve two-year terms and who would serve four-year terms to ensure staggering of elections again in the future.

Following the 2010 U.S. Census, Crow Wing County made slight changes to its commissioner districts, moving the cities of Manhattan Beach and Fifty Lakes from District 2 to District 5. These shifts did not prompt new elections.

Before county officials can finalize redistricting proposals, cities and townships must complete the reestablishment or redrawing of their own district boundaries, due by March 29. Most cities and townships — along with all school districts — in Crow Wing County elect representatives at large, meaning everyone living within that jurisdiction votes for all members of the elected bodies.

The city of Brainerd is an exception to that rule, with council members representing different geographical areas of the city. The City Council is expected to reestablish its voting precincts without needing to make population-based boundary adjustments at its Monday, March 21, meeting.

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Commissioners voted to set a public hearing to consider the county redistricting plan at 9:25 a.m. April 12. The board must decide on a plan by April 26, with candidates beginning to file for many offices on May 17. The primary election will take place Aug. 9 with the general election set for Nov. 8.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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