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Mapping Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota


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November 6th 2012 was a turning point in the fight for same-sex marriage in the United States.  In addition to the election of the nations first openly LGBT Senator (Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin), the election of several new LGBT candidates to the US House, there was the successful gay-rights referendums in four states.  Maine, Maryland, and Washington passed referendums to legalize same-sex marriage, while Minnesota voted to block a constitutional ban to same-sex marriage (which already is statutory-illegal in the state).   The three pro-gay measures marked the first time same-sex marriage succeeded on the ballot, a huge victory for the gay rights movement.  However, the vote to reject the ban in Minnesota perhaps has equally important connotations.  Minnesota’s vote showed a strong win in a Midwestern state, an area perceived to be hesitant toward same-sex marriage.  In addition, the rejection of the ban in the state has embolden gay-rights supports in the state.  Back in 2010, when the state elected a Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton, gay-rights supports were hoping for civil union legislation in the state.  However, in a cruel irony, the legislature turned Republican that same year, ensuring no civil union legislation would be brought up.  Taking back the Minnesota legislature was a big step toward a civil unions bill.  However, now that the ban but up by the Republican-legislature has failed, supports of civil unions appear embolden to go for full same-sex marriage instead.  In addition to the ban being stuck down, the legislature became Democratic again.  With a same-sex marriage ban rejected statewide, an a fresh Democratic legislature and governor, the chances for actual same-sex marriage passage in the state is as good as ever.

2012 in Minnesota

Liberals had a good night in Minnesota in the 2012 General Election.  Two conservative ballot measures (gay marriage ban and voter ID for voting) were defeated, and the Democrats regained the legislature.  The Republican had won control over both chambers in 2010, despite losing the gubernatorial election to the democrats.  However, 2012 marked a good year for democrats, who won back legislatures they had lost in 2010 across the country (except the south).  Thanks to Governor Dayton vetoing Republican gerrymanders during redistricting, the courts were forced to draw a neutral map.  Democrats won under the new lines, making large net gains.  The first map below shows the results for the state house elections.

Dems made gains across the state, in rural zones, and as the zoom in map below shows… the twin-cities metro area

With these gains, including Democrat expansions in the suburbs of the twin-cities, the party now controls 73 of the 134 seats in the state house.

Democrats made stronger gains in the state senate, getting to 39 of the 67 seats, an even bigger percentage than the one they have in the state house.  As with the house gains, senate seats gains were across the state

Dem gains were also especially prevalent in the the outer areas of the twin-cities metro area, where 9 of the gains made were in that region.

On the same night Democrats gained back the legislature, the referendum to ban gay marriage went down in defeat.  The measure had been close in the polling through most of the year, and the measure faced a steeper climb because blank votes are counted as no in Minnesota.  Still, considering the Midwest is still a tossup on same-sex marriage, there was a definite chance the measure could pass.

On election night though, the measure failed.

The map above color-coded as the percent in favor of the ban (so green, under-fifty, reflects a rejection of the ban).  The ban failed in only a handful of counties, but the those ones were where the population for the state is focused.

The map above focuses on the county breakdown of the referendum, but another way to look at it is the breakdown by legislative district.  The Minnesota Elections Office conveniently breaks down the statewide results by legislative district.  This way, the new legislators can see how their district voted on the ban, which could affect the determination of a lawmaker debating whether or not to vote yes or no on a same-sex marriage  bill.

First lets look at the state house.

More than half the districts voted against the marriage ban (green).   While the map looks mostly red, that’s because a large swath of small districts exist in the twin-cities region.

The strongest rejection of the ban came right in the St Paul and Minneapolis urban centers, which includes college communities.  Even the suburban zones (the light green area) rejected the ban.

Next, looking at the the state senate seats, we see again that a majority of the seats voted against the ban.

The same regional breakdown occurs on the seat map than the house map.  House seats are combined to form one senate seat in the state, so the regional similarities is not a surprise.  A zoom in of the twin-cities metro area again shows were most anti-ban seats are located.

Again, the ban failed worst in the center of the metro area, with the suburbs also rejecting the ban.

So, based of the 2012 general election results, there appears to be a good chance for marriage equality legislation in the state.  Democrats made strong gains, and the amendment failed in a majority of the districts.  However, not all these districts rejecting the ban where Democratic; and some democratic seats voted for the ban.   In order to look at an actual legislative vote, we must handicap both chambers of the legislature on a potential vote.

Handicapping the State House

First lets take a look at the state house, which might actually be a tougher haul because Democrats margin (54%) is lower than the state senate (58%).  Using the 2012 election results and the referendum to ban same-sex marriage, I have put each district into distinct categories of likelihood of voting.  A few things to mention here.  This analysis is base entirely off party ID and the amendment results.  It does not factor in how hard Democratic leadership will push their members, or how hard Republicans will try to keep their members in line.  How the whip count goes will have an effect on voting.  This analysis simply categorizes how each district breaks down.  Leadership takes these factors into account when trying to recruit votes for a bill.

Categorizing districts

  • Democrats in super pro-gay areas — these lawmakers are Democrats in districts that gave the ban less than 40% of the vote.  These lawmakers would be under intense pressure to vote for a marriage bill, or risk a primary challenge.
  • Democrats in pro-gay areas — the lawmakers are Democrats who reside in districts that voted against the ban but over 40%, they are also strong candidates for voting yes.
  • Democrats in tie areas — Democrats where the district tied on the ban, leadership will pressure them for a yes vote, they are in the “lean” category.
  • Republican in gay friendly — These Republicans,almost all in the twin-city suburbs, have districts that rejected the ban, mostly between 39 to 49%.  They are tossup votes.  Some will worry of right-wing primaries, while others will worry about general election implications.  Some may simply say they are reflecting their constituents wills.
  • Democrats in anti-gay areas — These democrats represent areas that voted for the ban, but under 60%.  Leadership will pressure whom they must if they are serious, but these lawmakers are tossups.
  • Republican in ban tie — This type of district has a Republican in a district that split down the middle on the ban.  They are a lean no because of the risk of a primary.
  • Democrats in super-anti gay area — These democrats reside in districts (largely rural) that voted for the ban over 60%.  Unless leadership demands it, getting a yes vote from these lawmakers would be very tough.
  • Republicans in anti-gay areas — These lawmakers will have no incentive to vote for a gay marriage bill.  They are strong no.

Based on these categories, the map below shows how each district is labeled.

Democrats need 68 votes in the state house to pass a bill, and already 58 votes fall into the lean or strong yes category (dems in pro-gay, super-gay, or tie areas).  This leaves 31 swing votes (rep in gay friendly or dem in anti-gay area), of which only 10 are needed.

Lets zoom into the twin cities metro area to look at these swing votes

This ring of republicans is 21 of the 31 swing voters.  These lawmakers represent areas that voted against the ban, the ring of suburbia surrounding the twin-cities.  These voters are fiscally conservative and voted Republican for legislature, but tend to be socially more liberal.  They will expect their lawmaker to be reasonable on social issues.  These representatives are prime picking for getting additional yes votes.  Most of these members are not newly elected, and may feel a degree of comfort in voting yes and not worrying of a primary challenge.

State House Overall Assessment 

The Democratic leadership has a decent chance of passage.  Democratic leaders need to ensure all 58 of the lean or strong yes votes actually cast ballots in favor of the legislation.  In addition, Democrats will need to get some votes out of their Democrats in anti-gay areas, and supplement the rest with suburban republican lawmakers.  Without Republicans, dems would need to get all their anti-gay area democrats on board, and 1 or 2 dems from very anti-gay zones; an unlikely feat.  Getting the votes just from the Democratic caucus could be difficult, so getting votes from the suburban republicans can shore things up.

Handicapping the State Senate

Handicapping the state senate is done the same way as the state house, with the same categorization.  Just reference the list in the state house section above to learn more about the classifications and to see which classification falls into yes/swing/or no.  Based off the criteria, here is the map of the state senate districts below.

Democrats need 34 votes to pass the measure, and already are at 29 with the lean and strong yes votes.  They need 5 votes from a pool of 18, and again, part of their answer may lie in the suburbs of the twin cities.

With 5 votes needed, some or all could come from the 7 suburban pro-gay, republican-occupied districts surrounding the twin cities.  Democrats can try and get votes from these moderate districts.  The party has more flexibility in the senate than the house due to their larger margin.  Democrats have 7 members in anti-gay districts, and would only need 5, and need none from the super anti-gay districts.  However, getting votes from the suburbs would allow the party to protect their own members from tricky votes.

Overall State Senate Assessment

I’d say Democrats have a better chance in the state senate than state house, although both are winnable or lose-able  Democrats have more cover in the senate due to a larger majority, while the house is a bit tighter.

Overall Assessment

I would say that if the Democratic leadership and reasonable popular governor Mark Dayton make a strong push for same-sex marriage, it can pass.  Democrats will be kept largely in line, and help from the suburban republicans who will need to be pressured by constituents to obey the will of their districts, to get this feat accomplished.   It will be a tough haul, but is a winnable won, just like close legislative votes in the past.  With strong force behind it from the political leaders, marriage-equality in Minnesota could easy be in the states very near future.


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