For the first time in U.S. history, a court has allowed the public to submit their own redistricting maps for consideration.

For decades, politicians and political parties were the only ones who were allowed to submit maps through the redistricting process. As a result of new technology developed through the Public Mapping Project, Minnesotans can draw and submit their own congressional and legislative maps.

"Maps should be drawn around people, not politicians," said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota. "For too long, the redistricting process has been controlled by politicians and political parties. The court's order is an opportunity to open up the redistricting process to a broader array of voices and interests."

Read the order online at www. mncourts.gov/Documents/0/Public/Court_Information_Office/2011Redistricting/A110152AmendedOrder9.13.11.pdf.

To assist the public in drawing maps, Common Cause and the Center for the Study of Politics are organizing a hands on training session Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Humphrey School for Public Affairs.

Participants will learn about the redistricting process and join in a group exercise to draw their own maps that could be submitted to the court. More information on the event can be found at www.drawminnesota. org/gerrymanderthon.

The public has never had a greater voice in the redistricting process, thanks to the court order and the public mapping project. This order will help to democratize the redistricting process by giving citizens a true voice in the process.

"These new maps will have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2012 election before a single candidate has filed to run for office," Dean said. "At a time when our politics seem so polarized, it is time for Minnesotans to become more engaged in how our government functions. Redistricting is the first step in that process."

Next week, the court will begin holding a series of public meetings around the state to gather public input before the special redistricting panel begins to draw the map.

The public has been encouraged to assist the court in identifying communities of interest throughout the state.

On Friday, October 14 in Mankato, 26 individuals will be speaking about redistricting concerns. Jacob Grippen of La Crescent is among them.

Individuals can submit written testimony at www.drawminnesota.org/define-your-community.

Common Cause Minnesota is a nonpartisan government watchdog organization committed to election fairness and transparency.