The tenure of legislators is prescribed by the state constitution:
"Representatives shall be chosen for a term of two years, except to fill a
vacancy. Senators shall be chosen for a term of four years, except to fill
a vacancy and except there shall be an entire new election of all the senators
at the first election of representatives after each new legislative apportionment..."
These have been the specified terms of office for over a century, under an
1877 amendment to the constitution.
Minn. Const., art. IV, sec. 4.
The constitution also schedules a state general election
every two years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each
even-numbered year. State law directs that candidates for the
legislature be listed on the partisan ballot at this election. The constitution
and state law both specify that the term of office of newly elected legislators
begins about two months after the election, on the first Monday in January of
each odd-numbered year.
Minn. Const., art. VII, sec. 7;
Minn. Stat., secs. 204D.02;
204D.03, subd. 2;
204D.08 subd. 4,
204D.13 subd. 1.
As a consequence of this constitutional scheme, legislative
terms coincide within each house: all 134 representatives are elected at once
and serve the same term in office; the same is true for all senators. (At one
time in the state’s history, the terms of senators overlapped—that is, half of
the senate seats were filled at one election; while the terms of the other half
of the senators carried over until the following election. This practice was
ended under the 1877 amendment to the constitution.) Between the houses, terms
of office may overlap, because the House term of two years is half that of the
usual senate term of four years.
There is one exception to this pattern of two-year House
terms and four-year Senate terms. Each decade, one four-year senate term is
halved, because of two constitutional requirements. First, the federal
constitution, as interpreted by courts since the 1960s, requires each state to
redraw the boundaries of state legislative districts after each decennial
federal census, to reflect geographic shifts in population during the preceding
decade. Second, the Minnesota constitution expressly requires “an entire new
election of all the senators” at the first election of representatives following
every redrawing of legislative districts. As a consequence of these two
constitutional requirements, legislative district lines must be redrawn every
ten years after each federal census of population; and all members of both
houses must be chosen from the newly drawn districts at the next general
election. The result, for senators, is a repeating decennial pattern of terms of
4, 4, and 2 years (e.g., 2003-2006, 2007-2010, 2011-2012, etc.).