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North Dakota redistricting panel eyes 47 districts as starting point on rapid schedule

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North Dakota lawmakers tasked with reapportioning the Legislature will begin with 47 districts in mind as they draft a new map.

The Legislature's 16-member Redistricting Committee met Thursday in Bismarck. The coronavirus pandemic delayed 2020 census data needed for redistricting, so the Republican-dominated panel has only about a month to draft a new map.

Chairman Rep. Bill Devlin, R-Finley, said 47 districts will be used for "planning purposes" of concept maps, though members aren't prohibited from mapping other versions. North Dakota's constitution allows 40 to 54 legislative districts, each with a senator and two representatives. The state has 47 districts.

The panel heard legal and historical information about redistricting and overviews of new population data, recordkeeping and map software.

Members of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee discuss their meeting plans.

North Dakota was one of the fastest-growing states in the last decade, growing nearly 16%, mostly in urban areas and the western oil patch.

Rural areas stand to lose legislative power, meaning those districts likely will be larger and fewer. 

The panel set a rapid-fire meeting schedule for September, meeting Sept. 8 in Fargo, followed by Bismarck meetings Sept. 15-16, 22-23 and 28-29.

The Legislature will meet in a special or reconvened session in November to approve a new map in time for 2022 elections.

Some voter groups have called on the panel to subdivide House districts and to avoid gerrymandering, or drawing boundaries to favor certain people. Subdivided House districts would essentially split a legislative district in two, with a representative elected from each half, versus at-large as now. North Dakota's constitution does allow House subdistricts.

Spirit Lake Tribe Gaming Commission Executive Director Collette Brown called on the mapmakers to avoid splitting Indian reservations. Devlin told her that does not and will not happen. 

He also said the panel will take input from the Native American tribes within the state's borders. The Legislature's Tribal and State Relations Committee also is meeting with representatives of each tribe.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, reminded lawmakers of criteria such as compactness, contiguity and preservation of political subdivision boundaries when drawing districts.

"Some of it is statutory and some of it is what we've done and some of it is just practical," said Holmberg, a lawmaker since 1976.

Devlin said each meeting will have opportunity for public comments.

The meetings will be livestreamed at video.legis.nd.gov.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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