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State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, column: 'One person, one vote' moves district boundaries

By Ray Holmberg GRAND FORKS -- One person, one vote. These four words, mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, are the reason an interim legislative committee is working on a redistricting plan for the North Dakota Legislature. Some areas of the stat...

By Ray Holmberg

GRAND FORKS -- One person, one vote. These four words, mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, are the reason an interim legislative committee is working on a redistricting plan for the North Dakota Legislature.

Some areas of the state, notably the northeast and north-central regions, have had a serious drop in population since the 2000 census. At the same time, urban areas have gained population.

In order for the state to comply with the Supreme Court mandate that legislative districts be of equal population size, the committee is considering a plan which moves two districts from more sparsely populated areas to Cass and Burleigh counties.

Not every legislator is pleased with this preliminary plan, which still is subject to additional public hearings and amendment. Some in both parties suggest the plan is unfair to some incumbents. But by necessity, redistricting moves boundaries to equalize population, and the current plan impacts more Republicans than Democrats.

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A redistricting plan, by itself, never removes an incumbent from office. That is a decision which rests in the hands of the voters in the district, not in a plan which balances populations between districts.

One complaint with previous redistricting in the state is that not enough attention was placed on keeping counties whole where possible. The preliminary plan -- which will be discussed at a hearing in Devils Lake on Tuesday -- keeps 36 of our 53 counties whole, a large improvement over the plan that has been in effect since 2001.

A number of counties must be divided because they have too many or too few people to fit into one district or because of a need to keep the four Indian reservations intact.

Does size matter? We recognize that some districts will grow in physical size to take in the required 14,310 people. Currently, the district with the largest geography is located in southwestern North Dakota, and under the preliminary plan, it doesn't grow in size. But some districts in central and northern areas grow larger to acquire required population.

For comparison, North Dakota will continue to have the fewest people per Senate district in the nation. There is a state senate district in Alaska that is the size of Texas.

In 2001, the Legislature reduced its size from 49 to 47 districts. At the time, the change was painful for some but met with popular support. A question being asked this time is this: Should the Legislature grow in size to accommodate the wishes of some incumbents?

The committee has discussed this question and feels that growing the size of government to accommodate a handful of politicians isn't in the best interest of the state.

In addition to the hearings this month, the committee will be taking testimony in Bismarck on Oct. 11 and 12 and again during the special session starting on Nov. 7.

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State Sen. Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, is chairman of the 2011 Interim Legislative Redistricting Committee.

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