It is time to remove partisan politics from the election map-making process. What better time than now while the census is being undertaken and before the next lines are drawn? Other states have worked on this issue and courts have agreed with some of their solutions. In North Dakota, the latest attempt to create a nonpartisan advisory commission for redistricting received a party-line “DO NOT PASS” in the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee on February 8th. Opponents on the committee suggested that gerrymandering and partisan motives to drawing of legislative district maps isn’t a problem in North Dakota. They’re wrong. We only need to look back to the last map drawing process for evidence.
In North Dakota after the 2010 Census, the Legislature was tasked with drawing new district lines. While Legislators were debating the new district map, House Majority Leader Al Carlson had this blatantly partisan thing to say:
This is a Republican plan for the next 10 years. Those new districts should be Republican, and I believe they’re very Republican. There should be six new Republican members (of the Legislature) as we go into the next election cycle. -Rep. Al Carlson (2011)
Did you count how many times Carlson was able to squeeze the word “Republican” in there? That comment underscores just how political the drawing of district lines are in its current form. The intent by the majority was to favor their own party through legislative action. That is the problem. It is no surprise they won’t be willing to give it up that easily.
District 16, one of the “new” districts was created in Fargo and West Fargo. Full disclosure, I served as Senator of District 16. Yet, it was drawn with partisan intentions. District 7, the other “new district” Carlson referenced, was removed from North Central ND and placed in Bismarck. Part of their intent was to remove former Senator Ryan Taylor’s seat and make him run against another Democratic-NPL Senator. Thus eliminating a member of the other party by drawing of district lines. Taylor chose not to run. In District 22, they pulled in part of West Fargo because incumbent Republican Rep. Wes Belter moved there and they didn’t want to lose his seat. In District 25 that includes Wahpeton, they pulled in part of southern Cass County and cut out selected townships. This helped Senator Larry Luick maintain a small victory over Perry Miller in 2014 and 2018.
This isn’t partisan whining either. States that are controlled by Democrats, and who are just as guilty of this practice, should move in this same direction of removing partisan politics from drawing election maps. Politicians should not be allowed to pick their voters. Some will claim the shifting of district lines wouldn’t make a difference in such a “red state” like North Dakota. Perhaps they’re right at this moment in our history. However, I just laid out a couple of examples showing the current process is being used to advance political strongholds. I’m sure if you dig further, you can find even more examples. It is wrong regardless of what party is responsible.
Both Republican and Democratic parties utilize gerrymandering in their favor when they’re in control of the process. We must end it. Other states, both red and blue-leaning, have begun to move in the direction of independence. Sometimes it is forced upon them by voters. Courts have upheld independent commissions removed from partisanship. The argument against this independence in North Dakota is the same argument legislators used against creating an ethics commission. I suspect the way to resolve the issue and move forward with independence will take the same effort by voters that led to the state’s ethics commission. That is, if the Legislature isn’t successful in making initiated measures more difficult for citizens.