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North Dakota legislative redistricting slowly taking shape

September 16, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A map for new North Dakota legislative districts is slowly taking shape, with proposals so far that would create a new district in the Fargo area and a pair in the oil-producing region in the western part of the state.

The redistricting committee, which has 14 Republicans and two Democrats, held its fourth meeting on Thursday and has focused on keeping 47 districts, instead of increasing or reducing the size of the Legislature. The addition of the three new districts in and around the state’s biggest city of Fargo, and Williston and Watford City in the heart of the state’s oil patch means three rural districts somewhere would have to be eliminated.

Finley GOP Rep. Bill Devlin, chairman of the committee, said he expects a draft statewide plan to be completed next week for public review. The panel meets twice next week in Bismarck.

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Legislative redistricting happens every 10 years after a federal census. It aims to ensure each lawmaker represents about the same number of people.

The GOP-controlled Legislature will finish the redistricting job during a special or reconvened session this fall. The full Legislature must approve the plan, and the governor must sign off on it. Some panel members have submitted draft plans for various regions of the state, but no formal statewide plan has been crafted.

One proposal adds a new district to rapidly growing Cass County, which includes Fargo and already has 10 districts. Other proposals that appear to have traction would add one district each around the two biggest oil patch cities, which have seen populations soar in the past decade with increased oil production.

Devlin said Thursday that regional plans that have wide agreement would be taken “out of the mix” so the panel can focus on the more difficult task of fashioning districts elsewhere, mostly in rural areas.

North Dakota’s population is estimated at a record 779,000, up almost 16% during the last decade, but most of the state’s rural legislative districts continued losing residents, according to census data. That means more real estate would be needed to reach the increased population numbers in the rural districts. But when rural legislative districts grow, the chances increase that a new district map will put incumbent lawmakers in the same region, which forces them to oppose each other if they want to stay in the Legislature.

When the Legislature completed its last redistricting plan a decade ago, district populations averaged about 14,500 people. The new plan adds about 2,000 more people to that.