Redistricting panel to hold legislative districts at 47

August 26, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A panel of North Dakota lawmakers on Thursday agreed to use the current number of legislators and the districts they represent as a template for redrawing new political boundaries.

The redistricting committee, which has 14 Republicans and two Democrats, began the arduous task of redistricting that when finalized later this year likely will show urban areas of the state gaining political strength in the Legislature, and rural parts losing clout due to population shifts in the past decade.

The panel is expected to complete its work by November, after several work sessions. No drafts of proposed legislative districts were offered at the initial meeting.

North Dakota now has 47 legislative districts, with each represented by two House members and a senator. The Legislature has 141 lawmakers — 47 senators and 94 House members.

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The North Dakota Constitution says the Legislature may have as few as 40 districts or as many as 54. The number of districts also could be expanded to prevent already sprawling districts from becoming more so. That idea has met some resistance in the past, with more conservative lawmakers arguing it grows government. During the 1990s, the Legislature had 49 districts and 147 members. It had 53 districts and 159 members in the 1980s.

Finley GOP Rep. Bill Devlin, chairman of the committee, said the current 47-district legislative map would be used as a starting point, though other plans that would expand the number of districts could be considered.

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

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 U.S. 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.

Devlin told reporters he expects at least three rural legislative districts likely will be eliminated.

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, with new census estimates.

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Areas in and around Fargo, Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks already account for nearly half of the Legislature’s members. Fargo and Bismarck are assured of adding more districts with new population estimates.

Devlin told reporters he doesn’t believe there much of an appetite on the committee to establish House “subdistricts″ in rural legislative districts. In a subdistrict arrangement, the senator would still represent the entire district. It would be split in half for House representation, with one House member representing each half.

None of the five American Indian reservations in the state would be divided into separate Legislative districts, Devlin said.

“We do not split a reservation,” Devlin said. “That just not happen in North Dakota.”

The panel’s next meeting is Sept. 8 in Fargo, followed by six others in Bismarck in the following weeks.

The Legislature would finish the redistricting job during a special or reconvened session this fall. The full Legislature has to approve the plan, and the governor must sign off on it.

The redistricting plan would be reflected in the June 2022 primary.