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Tribune editorial: Rural areas to lose seats in Legislature
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Tribune editorial: Rural areas to lose seats in Legislature

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The 68th Legislative Assembly that convenes in 2023 will be more urban. That’s because redistricting will be influenced by the state’s population growth, which has been concentrated in the bigger cities.

That doesn’t mean there will be a political shift in the assembly. The Legislature will remain dominant Republican and conservative. While Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot likely will gain seats, don’t expect major changes.

The legislative committee that will redraw the state’s boundaries will hold its first meeting Aug. 26, followed by at least six more to gather public comment. The meetings will be livestreamed, giving more people access to the discussions. The Legislature will complete redistricting at a special or reconvened session this fall.

Under law, legislative districts must contain basically the same number of residents. When the last redistricting plan was completed 10 years ago, the districts averaged 14,500 people. The recent census is expected to add about 2,000 people to the districts.

Kevin Iverson, manager of the census office at the state Commerce Department, said more than 90% of the state’s growth has occurred in the 13 largest cities. Those cities will likely gain legislators at the expense of rural areas.

The physical size of some rural districts will increase, adding to the travel of candidates seeking election. The opposite will be true in urban areas.

Redistricting won’t threaten Republican control of the Legislature. In fact, it won’t make a dent in it. Republican dominance is so pervasive that trying to redraw a district to force out a Democrat would be rubbing it in. Gerrymandering shouldn’t be considered.

Rural voters should be concerned about their shrinking clout at the Capitol. More focus, and money, may be placed on the needs of more populated areas. An example of how rural areas sometimes wind up in a fight occurred two sessions ago.

Gov. Doug Burgum offered a revamp of the state’s prison system. Part of the proposal would have moved the women’s prison out of New England. The governor’s office argued that New England was too isolated, requiring travel for medical care and created a hardship for relatives of inmates who wanted to visit.

New England fought the proposal and rural communities rallied for them. The revamp failed.

These types of fights could become more common. One factor that favors rural districts is that many legislators from urban areas have rural ties. They or their parents may have grown up in small towns. They have an understanding of rural needs.

The Tribune editorial board agrees districts should have roughly the same populations. We also believe districts should be contiguous and compact as possible. North Dakota’s Constitution allows for as few as 40 legislative districts and as many as 54. At present the state has 47 legislative districts, each with two House members and a senator.

The committee in charge of redistricting needs to be fair and put political considerations aside. The final redistricting plan needs to make it as easy as possible for all voters. There will be disappointments, but if done fairly it will be acceptable.

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