Communications and Policy Director for North Dakota Voters First Rick Gion says a bill that keeps drafts of redistricting plans out of public view could create unfair representation for voters.
“This is a big deal. This comes up every 10 years with the census. Decisions that legislators have affect peoples’ lives,” said.
“Over the last couple decades, we’ve really seen some gerrymandering. Some of the maps in the urban areas look like a piece of modern art,” Gion said.
Every decade, a redistricting committee comprised of lawmakers from both chambers meets to draw new districts. In this year’s bill, drafts of redistricting plans would be exempt from open records — meaning the public could view proposals only when presented at meetings, but not see them beforehand.
Rep. Chet Pollert says because the meetings are open, it shouldn’t be an issue.
“I just want to let folks know because when they see the word exempt, it sounds like it’s going to be done in secret. When we have a districting committee, whoever’s on that committee, that part’s going to be open record,” Pollert said.
But North Dakota Newspaper and Broadcaster’s Association lobbyist Jack McDonald says making the drafts confidential until presented deprives the public the chance to prepare meaningful testimony or objections to their plans.
“The public and the legislative should see those, and I think there’s a little disagreement over the way the statute is written,” McDonald said.
McDonald suggested an amendment to require drafts be made public two weeks prior to meetings, similar to how legislative bills are available online before hearings.
“I likened it to the legislature. You have a bunch of bills here, but the bills didn’t become public until the day of the hearing. That’s what it seems like this is written. That wouldn’t be fair, I mean, how could you testify if you couldn’t even see the bill until the hearing?” McDonald said.
Gion brought up another concern with the bill: it says that lawmakers will make up the redistricting committee, instead of a third party.
“You can’t have politicians picking their voters in secret. We’d like to see an independent commission, possibly the ethics commission, tackle the redistricting issue,” Gion said.
The House passed the bill overwhelmingly last month by a vote of 86 to 6, and the Senate Political Subdivisions committee is still considering the suggested amendments.