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Proposed constitutional amendment would bar lawmakers from redrawing districts

Proposed constitutional amendment would bar lawmakers from redrawing districts

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A proposed constitutional amendment would strip North Dakota lawmakers of the job of drawing their own legislative districts and give it to an independent commission.

North Dakota's League of Women Voters is promoting the measure and wants it on the November ballot, said Lois Ivers Altenburg of Fargo, the organization's president and chairwoman of the initiative campaign.

Altenburg said Tuesday that the measure is timely because North Dakota lawmakers are already preparing to draw new districts next year, based on new data being collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

``I think there's always a lurking feeling that you've got the fox guarding the hen house when you have people who are in office, who want to maintain their position ... deciding the shape of the districts that are going to elect them,'' Altenburg said. ``We want to remove that suspicion.''

The proposed amendment would put an eight-member commission in charge of redistricting.

Seven members would be appointed by the chief administrative judges in North Dakota's seven judicial districts. The chairman would be chosen by a committee made up of Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and the chairman of the University of North Dakota's geography department.

The commission would be required to hold public hearings. Although lawmakers could protest some aspects of the commission's plan, the panel would not be required to implement lawmakers' suggestions and the Legislature would not vote on any new redistricting plan.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger began reviewing the proposed ballot measure Tuesday. He has until July 1 to check it and write a short statement describing what it does, though he cannot change the content. Jaeger will then approve the petition for its supporters to circulate.

But to get the proposal on the November ballot, supporters must collect at least 25,668 signatures from North Dakota voters and give them to Jaeger by midnight Aug. 4. The number of required signatures represents 4 percent of North Dakota's population, as counted by the 2000 census.

``It will be difficult, but if this catches fire, we can do it,'' said Carol Sawicki, of Fargo, the league's treasurer.

The North Dakota Legislature attempts redistricting after every federal census to make sure each district has about the same number of residents, and thus has equal voting power in the state House and Senate.

North Dakota now has 47 districts, each of which is represented by two House members and a senator. The North Dakota constitution says the Legislature may have as few as 40 districts, or as many as 54.

An amendment similar to the League of Women Voters' initiative was introduced in the North Dakota House during the 2009 Legislature, sponsored by state Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, who is the Democratic candidate for secretary of state. It was defeated, 58-34, with Republicans opposing the plan and Democrats favoring it.

The League of Women Voters' initiative has a 25-member sponsoring committee made up of both Democrats and Republicans.

Altenburg was the Republican candidate for North Dakota's U.S. House seat in 1984, losing to then-incumbent Democrat Rep. Byron Dorgan. Sawicki is a former Democratic candidate for the North Dakota House.

If supporters miss the Aug. 4 signature deadline for the November election, they would have about a year to keep collecting signatures to get the proposed amendment on a statewide ballot in 2012, or sooner if the governor calls a special election.



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