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Transparency Sought as ND Lawmakers Debate Redistricting

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021   

BISMARCK, N.D. - The North Dakota Senate soon will take up a bill that outlines how the state will handle redistricting, but voter-advocacy groups are voicing concerns about language they say would shield the process from the public.

The measure, House Bill 1397, which recently cleared the House, would exempt proposed maps of legislative districts from open-records laws. Redistricting is done once a decade after each census count, and with Republicans holding majorities in the Legislature, they're in charge of the process.

Rick Gion, communications and policy director for the group North Dakota Voters First, said that shouldn't be a reason to draw the maps without public scrutiny.

"We want to make sure that these districts are as fair as possible and we want North Dakotans to get the best representation possible," he said, "because legislators, what they vote on affects people's everyday lives."

If the map-making rules are finalized in their current form, there's the possibility of a court challenge that could mean costly litigation for the state. Two former statewide officials, a Republican and a Democrat, coauthored a recent opinion column calling for an open process. But supporters of HB 1397 have said the process works fine, and the special committee will include input from Democrats.

But Voters First and other watchdog groups say North Dakota should join the list of states that allow an independent commission to oversee redistricting. Gion said neither political party should benefit from this requirement.

"Protecting incumbency is not goal of redistricting," he said. "Partisanship is not the goal of redistricting."

The bill is expected to first be considered by the Senate Political Subdivisions Committee. A hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, but the groups calling for transparency are urging voters to sign up and speak when the panel considers HB 1397.

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


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