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New political maps mean a potential shift in politics in Grand Forks, Bismarck

Maps were considered this week in Bismarck and approved by both the House and Senate. They head to Gov. Doug Burgum’s desk for a signature soon.

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The North Dakota Capitol building in Bismarck. North Dakota Tourism photo

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census redraws political maps all across the country. And every time, politicians have to wonder: What will this mean for my district? What could it mean for the next election?

This map-drawing cycle is giving state Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, as much to think about as any other state legislator. He won his 2020 election by 16 votes — the electoral skin of his teeth. Should he run again, redistricting could easily decide his fate in 2024.

And in District 18, which Mock has represented for years, the map is changing significantly. It includes downtown Grand Forks, and since 2010 has stretched into the rural area north of the city and all the way out to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

But new, proposed maps shear off a lot of that land, extending it along the Red River running north. Mock said he’s not thinking about that right now — or any changes that new constituency could bring.

“If I run for reelection … I’ll be campaigning the same as I always have,” Mock said. He added that, despite new borders for all four of Grand Forks’ legislative districts, the biggest factor in coming state elections won’t be the new maps.

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Instead, it’ll be the issues of the moment, the candidates themselves and — the perennial phantom weight on local races — the mood in national politics.

“I think this is about as smooth a redistricting change in our area as one could expect,” he said.

But the new maps could shift Grand Forks politics nonetheless. Not only is Mock’s seat surely on the GOP’s radar for next cycle, but shifting borders around the city mean new constituents and new things to think about in Bismarck.

District 42, which has long included UND and surrounding neighborhoods, is the prime example. Draft maps now extend it out into rural Grand Forks County, all the way to Grand Forks Air Force Base. That’s changing the nature of a tiny district that’s long been built on the door-to-door charm of candidates who could cover huge swaths of it on foot.

“You can’t walk from my front door to Emerado,” joked state Rep. Emily O’Brien, R-Grand Forks, who was elected in the district in 2016.

RELATED: Did the U.S. Census Bureau undercount students at UND, NDSU? Some say it appears so

The new districts come on the heels of the decennial U.S. Census, which was administered amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Grand Forks, it registered a surprising drop in the population near UND’s campus, which has been alternately attributed to shifts in dorm living or enrollment or even an undercount of area students.

But regardless of the causes, the result is an expansion of District 42’s borders.

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“You have to remember this map is a result of a census that, we think, undercounted our district,” Jeffrey Powell, the Democratic Party chairman for District 42, said in an email. “The effects of COVID on the population of the neighborhood, and the low vote counts in the district during COVID, will mean the next decade will shape local politics in a way that wouldn't have happened absent the pandemic.”

Other districts to the south have seen shifts in their draft maps, too, though not as drastic. In District 43, the borders have shifted — but it still represents the suburban heart of the city. In the south end’s District 17, much of the rural area has been cut away, shrinking around the growing, suburban southern reaches of Grand Forks, where the census measured big population growth.

And across the state, cities have grown significantly, with double-digit surges in population measured since 2010 in Fargo, Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks. The result is more legislators coming from urban areas, and slightly less from rural ones. Two rural districts in the Grand Forks region — Districts 19 and 20 — are set to be absorbed into one another, potentially setting up a 2022 contest pitting sitting legislators against each other. The same situation could play out around the state .

RELATED: Grand Forks region likely to lose a legislative district, drawing concern about rural representation

Maps were considered this week in Bismarck and approved by both the House and Senate. They head to Gov. Doug Burgum’s desk for a signature soon.

“Sometimes we’re accused of, we don’t go out until we need to campaign,” said Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, who represents the UND district. “Well, now’s the opportunity to meet some new people prior to that.”

Corey Mock
Rep. Corey Mock (Photo provided by North Dakota Legislative Council)

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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