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ND Residents Urged to Seek Transparency on Redistricting

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021   

BISMARCK, N.D. -- On the heels of the 2020 census, states now are getting started on redrawing their legislative maps.

But watchdogs say there are still concerns about gerrymandering in states such as North Dakota, and hope citizens demand more transparency in the process.

Nearly three dozen states, including North Dakota, leave it up to lawmakers to control redistricting. In Bismarck, with Republicans in firm control of both chambers of the Legislature, GOP leaders are expected to oversee map changes.

Carol Sawicki, chair of the group North Dakota Voters First, said in the long term, they want an independent commission to supervise the work. But for this cycle, they hope residents apply some pressure.

"If we push for more open meetings, more town halls where people can look at the potential maps, that would be our plan right now," Sawicki explained.

She said the pressure might help convince those in charge not to make the interim maps exempt from public view, which has been done in the past. It's unclear yet how GOP leaders will carry out the process.

Last year, Sawicki's group gathered petitions for a constitutional amendment calling for an independent commission, but the ballot question was struck down in a legal challenge before the election.

Opponents of such commissions say they can't be held accountable by voters because members aren't elected.

But Sawicki maintained calls for change are strictly about ensuring that one party doesn't keep getting the opportunity to stay in power without any say from the public.

"Our goal is just to have partisanship completely removed from the process and have the people have a lot of input and to see what is going on," Sawicki outlined.

Others demanding changes pointed to North Dakota Republicans gaining super-majority status in the Legislature since they last drew the maps in 2011.

Meanwhile, Sawicki confirmed they will try again to get a measure on future ballots, asking voters to consider an independent commission.

Nearly 10 U.S. states have panels composed of non-politicians in charge of redrawing state legislative boundaries.

Disclosure: North Dakota Voters First contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, and Civil Rights. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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