Republicans, who vastly outnumber Democrats in the Legislature, will lead a committee to redraw North Dakota’s legislative districts this year, a task that will influence the political balance of power for the next decade.
A redistricting committee of 14 Republicans and two Democrats was picked Wednesday during a meeting of Legislative Management, a 17-member GOP-led panel of lawmakers that handles the Legislature’s business between sessions.
A seat on the redistricting committee is always competitive because it decides potentially new areas that lawmakers will represent, and 95 of the Legislature’s 141 members applied. Members were chosen based on recommendations from party leaders.
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 has 47 legislative districts, and each is represented by two House members and a senator. The Legislature has 47 senators and 94 House members. Republicans have 80 House seats to Democrats’ 14, and a 40-7 edge in the Senate.
Democrats hold about 14% of legislative seats, so proportionately, the redistricting committee is in-line with the Legislature’s makeup.
One looming question is whether to increase the number of districts because of bigger urban population gains, to keep sprawling rural districts from covering even more ground to absorb more constituents.
North Dakota’s Constitution allows for as few as 40 legislative districts and as many as 54.
Legislative Management on Wednesday also named the members of 27 interim committees. The bipartisan committees will study an assortment of subjects in the run-up to the 2023 legislative session, from school funding to gambling addiction.
North Dakota is one of four states where the Legislature meets every other year.
Bismarck Sen. Erin Oban and Fargo Rep. Josh Boschee represent the Democrats on the redistricting panel. GOP Rep. Bill Devlin, of Finley, will head the panel. Other GOP representatives on the panel are Austen Schauer of West Fargo; David Monson of Osnabrock; Larry Bellew of Minot; Craig Headland of Montpelier; Mike Nathe of Bismarck; and Mike Lefor of Dickinson.
GOP senators on the panel are Ray Holmberg of Grand Forks; Brad Bekkedahl of Williston; Nicole Poolman of Bismarck; Robert Eberle of Lehr; Jerry Klein of Fessenden; Ron Sorvaag of Fargo; and Randy Burckhard of Minot.
Republicans have controlled both chambers and the crafting of legislative maps since 1994. Democrats have pushed for equal numbers on the redistricting committee, or to have an independent panel craft the legislative maps. Republicans have repeatedly rebuffed those attempts.
Democrats on Wednesday did not protest the new panel’s makeup.
Legislative leaders said the panel would host several meetings statewide and hopes to finish its work by Nov. 1.
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.
Any new districts would be reflected in the June 2022 primary.