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Tribune editorial: Legislature needs to try subdistricts

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The Legislature’s Redistricting Committee should seriously consider creating House subdistricts in large legislative districts. If nothing else, subdistricts should be tried in tribal nations.

Under the subdistrict concept, large districts are split into two. Instead of two candidates elected in one large district, one candidate is elected in each smaller subdistrict. Members of the Senate would still be elected in the overall district. North Dakota has some large legislative districts covering up to seven counties. Under redistricting, the state is expected to add more large districts because of the population shift to cities.

It’s difficult for a candidate or legislator to make regular contacts in a large district. There’s a lack of resources and time to do so, unlike a member of Congress.

According to a story by reporter Jack Dura on Saturday, the subdistrict idea isn’t gaining much traction despite support from a number of groups. Some interest has been voiced in trying subdistricts for tribal nations.

That idea could lead to a pilot program of sorts for the state and offer a number of benefits. Subdistricts would reduce travel by candidates/legislators, provide more personal contact with voters and open the door for more diversity in the Legislature.

Historically, the Legislature has been dominated by older white men. In recent years the number of women serving has increased, but they are still in the minority. There haven’t been many Native Americans in the Legislature.

There are a number of reasons older white men have been in a large majority. They tend to be established in their careers or retired which gives them the financial means and time to spend four months every two years in Bismarck. How legislative districts are configured plays a role.

When redistricting, an attempt is made to keep each district with approximately the same number of residents. This year, the goal is for 16,576 residents in each district with the population divided into 47 districts.

If tribal nations are in districts that include non-reservation residents, it reduces the opportunity of Native candidates getting elected. If tribal nations get subdistricts or are the majority in subdistricts, it increases the odds of Native Americans getting elected. The end result could be tribal nations more fairly represented at the Legislature.

Subdistricts also could boost the representation of rural areas in the Legislature. They wouldn’t give tribal nations or rural areas majority clout, just a more equal voice.

With North Dakota voting heavily Republican, there should be no gerrymandering. The Republican Party is in no danger of losing its majority status. The most interesting political fights are within the Republican Party, not with the Democratic-NPL.

If the redistricting committee and the Legislature truly want to create equality in legislative districts, then subdistricts should be tried. If it isn’t successful, the districts can revert to the original districts for the House races. The Legislature should try something different -- it could result in a number of dividends.

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