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Ideas for North Dakota’s new legislative map discussed

September 8, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Republican-controlled legislative committee on Wednesday began floating ideas for new North Dakota legislative districts, with little option than to shift the political balance of power to the state’s urban areas for the next decade.

The Legislature must draw new political boundaries based on the 2020 census to make sure every lawmaker is representing about the same number of people.

“What we’re doing here is not rocket science — it really is just arithmetic,” said Grand Forks GOP Sen. Ray Holmberg, who is serving on his fifth redistricting panel. His first was in 1981.

The panel of 14 Republicans and two Democrats met Wednesday in Fargo for its second meeting. It’s the only meeting that will be held outside of Bismarck. A third meeting is scheduled next week.

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.

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Finley GOP Rep. Bill Devlin, chairman of the redistricting committee, said any draft plans are simply “concepts” at present. Devlin has served on two previous redistricting committees.

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 lost residents, according to census data.

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.

The panel has focused on keeping 47 districts, rather than increasing or reducing the size of the Legislature. Population shifts within North Dakota have made it necessary to redraw the boundaries of most of the existing districts. Most urban areas of the state will gain political strength in the Legislature, while rural parts with declining population will have some districts erased.

Thirty of the state’s 53 counties lost population in the past decade, according to census data.

Devlin has said he expects at least three rural legislative districts likely will be eliminated.

Areas in and around Fargo, Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks already account for nearly half of the Legislature’s members. Fargo, Bismarck and Williston, which is in the heart of North Dakota’s oil patch and has doubled its population in the past decade, are assured of adding more districts.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney told the panel the state’s largest city has grown 20% in the past decade, and now represents a quarter of the state’s population. West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis said his city has seen 49% growth and is no longer “a quiet little bedroom community.”