Redistricting process moving too fast

Mike Moen
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

BISMARCK -- North Dakota lawmakers in charge of redistricting have approved a preliminary draft of new legislative boundaries, but voters' advocates said a lot is being done without as much public input as they'd like.

The latest version of the map was approved by the Republican-controlled redistricting committee Thursday. The panel has been meeting this month, with residents able to testify in-person or virtually.

Rick Gion, communications and policy director for North Dakota Voters First, said hearings were scheduled during working hours, limiting participation.

"We are concerned about making sure that citizens are engaged in this process," Gion explained.

North Dakota's redistricting committee met on Tues., Sept. 28, and Wed., Sept. 29, and could make additional changes to a new voting-district map that advanced last week.

He contended other states offer a greater number of public hearings that better accommodate people's schedules. Gion pointed out even with late-arriving census data affecting the process, he feels things are moving too quickly.

Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, a member of the committee, argued the panel has done plenty to make hearings accessible, noting the public can weigh in during two more meetings next week.

Gion emphasized they're appealing for additional meetings beyond those currently scheduled. He added contrary to the wording published ahead of the process, his group feels proposed boundaries aren't being posted online in a timely fashion as constituents prepare their testimony.

"The maps are appearing during the meeting, mostly after the meetings," Gion observed. "People don't have time to review them beforehand, and go and testify."

He contended it raises questions about transparency in the overall process. Sen. Bekkedahl believes legislative staff has been moving quickly to relay the latest maps to the public.

The legislative maps are expected to be voted on by the full Legislature in a special session later this fall. The maps also need the governor's endorsement.