Redistricting in North Dakota

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Note: Redistricting takes place every ten years after completion of the United States Census. The information here pertains to the 2010 redistricting process.

Redistricting in North Dakota
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January 2012
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Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures
Redistricting in North Dakota is handled by the State Legislature. North Dakota is one of 28 states in which lawmakers are wholly responsible for redrawing maps. North Dakota's 2010 population stood at 672,591, a 5% increase from 2000 and the second highest population total in the state's history.[1]


The North Dakota Legislature is responsible for the redistricting process. If a plan is not agreed upon by the Legislature, a federal or state court may draw the lines. The North Dakota Constitution stipulates that the Senate must be composed of between 40 and 54 members. The House must be composed of between 80 and 180 members. Currently, there are 47 Senate members and 94 House members. A statutory provision provides that any census after 1999 must use the current 47 and 94 figures.


A joint committee oversaw redistricting. Members of the Interim Legislative Redistricting Committee were as follows:

Senate Membership

Republican PartyRepublicans (5)

Democratic PartyDemocrats (2)

House Membership

Republican PartyRepublicans (5)

Democratic PartyDemocrats (2)

Appointment controversy

House Minority Leader Jerome Kelsh (D) suggested that Majority Leader Al Carlson (R) lied about the appointment process for the interim redistricting committee. Kelsh maintained that Carlson promised that Democrats would be allowed to select their own committee members. However, after rejecting two separate sets of nominees, Carlson agreed to select Kelsh and Richard Holman for the committee. Carlson maintained that the promise was qualified by the condition of geographic balance on the committee.[2]

Census results

On March 15, 2011, North Dakota received its local 2010 census data. The data was used to guide the state as it redrew state and local electoral districts.[3] Although North Dakota experienced net growth of approximately 5%, a majority of rural districts lost population. Losses were especially significant in the state's northeast. These population shifts presented challenges for lawmakers as rural districts had to expand geographically to increase their population. This expansion threatened to force lawmakers to draw incumbents into the same districts as existing districts compete for space. Given GOP dominance across the state, several Republicans incumbents looked to face primaries against their present colleagues.[4] Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) suggested November as a possible start date for a special legislative session for redistricting.[5]

State legislative redistricting

As the Senate and House began to put together the redistricting committee, some Democratic leaders were concerned that their party would not receive a fair voice in the process. "We're kind of being left out, and don't have much say," said Jerry Kelsh (D), House Minority Leader. Republicans insisted the process would be fair, with proportional representation on the committee. Along with the governorship, the GOP held a super majority in both houses at the time of redistricting.[6]

Adding new districts

In order to prevent the displacement of rural legislators and the expansion of rural districts, some proposed adding districts to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. Each district in the state has two representatives and one senator. As such, North Dakota had 47 districts and 141 state legislators at the time of redistricting. After the 1980 census, North Dakota had 53 districts and 159 lawmakers. The state constitution allows for between 40 and 54 districts (ND Const. Article IV, Section 1). However, plans of expanding the legislature could be hampered by the cost of new districts. Including compensation and other costs, each new district could cost more than $1.2 million over the next decade.[7]

Special session announced

On Wednesday, September 14, 2011, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) announced a November 7 special session to tackle state redistricting. The session was expected to last five days and, in addition to redistricting, address disaster relief, a health insurance exchange, and the “Fighting Sioux” nickname controversy.[8] Senator Ray Holmberg (R), chairman of the state's joint redistricting committee, said the committee hoped to have a draft map ready for public comment soon. He added that the plan would keep the number of districts steady at 47, shifting two districts from rural areas into Fargo and Bismarck.[9]

Committee preps draft map

North Dakota's redistricting committee met on September 16 to finish a preliminary map of the state’s legislative districts for public review. While the plan primarily affected rural Republicans, Democrats said the plan unfairly targeted Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor (D) by pairing him with a fellow Democratic incumbent, David O'Connell. Republicans argued that demographic changes necessitated the move.[10][11][12]

Committee approves map proposal

On October 12, the Interim Legislative Redistricting Committee approved new maps for North Dakota's 47 legislative districts. The plan cut rural districts and shifted districts toward urban areas, like Fargo and Bismarck. Advocates for rural areas had asked for an increase in the total number of districts to prevent significant changes to rural districts. However, the committee decided to retain a 47 district plan. Due to population shifts, a number of legislators were drawn into the same districts. Most significantly, the plan paired Senate Democratic Leader Ryan Taylor with former leader David O'Connell. In addition, the Senate plan paired Senators Joe Miller (R) and Curtis Olafson (R). In the House, the plan drew four Republicans into one district, and three Republicans and one Democrat into another. The full legislature took up the plans in a November 7 special session.[13]

Legislative maps approved

On November 8, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed a redistricting bill which redrew the state’s 47 legislative districts. Democrats objected to the map, asking for a new plan for central North Dakota and an increase in the total number of House seats in order to avoid extensive reshaping of rural districts. Both requests were denied. Although Democrats called the plan unfair, Republicans insisted that Democrats were consulted and noted that the plan would force many Republicans to run for re-election earlier than usual. Overall, the plan cut two rural districts and created new districts in Bismarck and Fargo. The plan paired over a dozen incumbents, including Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor (D).[14] North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) signed the redistricting legislation on November 9.[15]


House Bill 1267

HB 1267, signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple on April 18, established a special redistricting committee and exempted redistricting plans from the state's open records law. The law also set a deadline (October 31, 2011) for the committee to submit redistricting legislation. In addition, the law directed the Governor to call a special session to adopt the state's new maps. Democrats had sought to introduce provisions allowing party leaders to select their respective committee members instead of the Chairman of Legislative Management (House Majority Leader Al Carlson). However, this proposed amendment was ultimately rejected.[16][17]

House Concurrent Resolution 3012

HCR3012 would amend the North Dakota Constitution to mandate that decennial redistricting be controlled by a bi-partisan commission rather than the state legislature. If passed, the amendment would not affect 2011 redistricting.[18] The bill was proposed in the house by Corey Mock (D), Lee Kaldor (D), Jerome Kelsh (D), and Ralph Metcalf (D). In the senate, the bill was proposed by Ryan Taylor (D) and John Warner (D). The billed was voted down on March 31, 2011, 25 yeas to 69 nays.

Ballot measures

The following measures have been proposed to the North Dakota ballot pertaining to redistricting.

The North Dakota Redistricting Amendment (2012) would have required that legislative district lines be drawn by an eight-member independent commission. Currently, North Dakota lawmakers are responsible for establishing district lines. The initiative failed to qualify for the 2010 ballot but remained valid for one year. According to new census numbers, the measure required a minimum of 26,904 valid signatures in order to qualify for the 2012 ballot. However, as of July 5, 2011, the measure failed to collect sufficient signatures. According to reports, the supporting campaign only collected an estimated 5,000 signatures.[19]


Consideration of state redistricting plans was expected to take place during a special session in mid-November 2011.[20]

The expected timeline for North Dakota was as follows:

North Dakota 2010 Redistricting Timeline
Date Action
December 21, 2010 State informed of number of Congressional Seats on the 2010 Census.
March 1, 2011 Expected date to receive complete Census data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
April 1, 2011[21] Final deadline to receive Census data.
October 31, 2011 Deadline for redistricting committee to draft redistricting legislation.
January 3, 2012[22]. Deadline for the North Dakota Legislature to have a redistricting plan in place.
June 2012 First primary elections in newly created districts.
November 2012 First general election in newly created legislative and congressional boundaries.

Constitutional explanation

The North Dakota Constitution provides authority to the Legislature for redistricting in Section 2 of Article IV.


Figure 1: This map shows the only North Dakota Congressional District after the 2000 census.

2001 redistricting

As North Dakota lawmakers settled down to work out the implications of the 2000 Census, the state had 49 legislative districts, each housing one Senator and two Representatives. One of seven states with a single, at-large district, North Dakota's major focus is on her state level seats. Multiple bills brought to the floor during the 2000 regular session sought to create single-member seats; none, though, passed.

With Census data in hand, a 15-member bipartisan committee took to work, soliciting maps for consideration. By October 2001, with a month left, they were still struggling to narrow down 11 proposed maps. In fact, the Legislative Redistricting Committee was still haggling over how many districts they actually wanted to draw. With a Constitutional provision for anywhere from 40 to 54 districts, the four maps that survived the first hearing ranged from 45 to 51 proposed seats.

Thematic of the debate was a tension between rural lawmakers who held that anything at 49 seats or below left them with unworkably large seats and fiscal watchdogs who pointed out that each seat added to the existing 49 bore a $703,000 a year price tag. When Governor John Hoeven and Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, both Republicans, came out in favor of actually contracting the legislature, a rift threatened to divide the GOP, who comfortably dominated the House, Senate, and the Redistricting Committee. The state party's careful refusal to enter the fray kept a full fight from breaking out.

Midway through October, the Committee finally voted, on a 9-6 party-line split, to cut the legislature down to 47, meaning two Senators and four Representatives would be out of work after 2002. Some members freely admitted they had voted under duress in recognition of the fact that the state was running out of time. Constitutionally limited to 80 working days each biennial, North Dakota lawmakers had already met in regular session for a record setting 77 days. Were they to call themselves back into session, they would have only three days to deliver a finished redistricting plan. However, were Governor Hoeven to exercise his right to convene an extraordinary session, no such time limit would apply, a move the Governor was by no means clearly decided on.

The next week, the Legislative Redistricting Committee went to work with a vengence, urgently needing a bill ready for the Legislative Council by November 6, 2011, so that the special session of the entire General Assembly, tentatively set to convene November 26th, would have something to work with. Republican-drawn plans for all the major cities passed unanimously, and a Democratic bid to turn the entire matter over to an independent commission in the future failed. A joint effort from American Indian tribes and the ACLU to gain specially drawn districts also failed. Furthermore, after hours of debate, the Committee decided any Senator or Representative who found himself sharing a district with another incumbent after the maps were finalized would have to run in 2002.

While the bill passed out of Committee, both Democrats and rural Republicans didn't bother hiding their disappointment over the loss of seats, something that rural lawmakers with massive, yet nearly empty, districts pledged to vote against. On November 6, 2011, the Legislative Council signed off on the bill, though not before leaving Redistricting Chairman Mike Timm with a black eye over his initial refusal to allow comments prior to the vote, something that outraged citizens in attendance and caused some lawmakers to walk out.

The next morning, Governor Hoeven used an executive order to officially call a special session, set for November 26, 2001. Legislators on both sides spent the next two weeks preparing not only their challenges and amendments to the redistricting map but to a host of other projects, an unhappy side effect of the legal fact that Governors may call special sessions but cannot limit the duration or subject matter therein.

By late November, it was the Democrats who were in disarray, with House members pushing for a 51 district plan and voicing suspicion that their Senate colleagues, the originators of the 47 district plan, had fumbled badly by letting the GOP call their bluff. On the 29th, the 51-district plan barely failed on an 8-7 vote that crossed party lines and regional interests. After that, the resolution came swiftly. A 31-16 Senate vote and a concurring 66-29 tally in the House on the 30th sent the contentious 47 district plan to John Hoeven's desk. He signed it that afternoon, keeping the special session to one week but hardly making all parties involved happy.[23]

Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[24]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts N/A
State House Districts 10.00%
State Senate Districts 10.00%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

See also

External links


  1. Devils Lake Journal, "North Dakota census count is second highest in history," April 6, 2011
  2. News Times, "ND Dem leader: GOP lied about redistricting panel," June 18, 2011
  3. US Census Bureau, "Census Bureau Ships Local 2010 Census Data to North Dakota," March 15, 2010
  4. Bismark Tribune, "GOP faces difficult job of redrawing districts," June 15, 2011
  5., "ND Gov Says Nov. Special Session Possible," March 21, 2011 (dead link)
  6. KFYR TV "Redistricting spurs partisan battles in ND legislature," February 4, 2011
  7. Forbes, "ND legislative district cost: $1.2M for 10 years," July 22, 2011 (dead link)
  8. Grand Forks Herald, "ND legislative special session to begin Nov. 7, September 15, 2011
  9. Houston Chronicle, "ND legislative redistricting plan takes shape," September 16, 2011
  10. Houston Chronicle, "ND GOP redistricting draws Dem complaints," September 19, 2011
  11. KFYR, "Legislative Redistricting May Cost Leader a Seat," September 19, 2011
  12. The Jamestown Sun, "ND legislative redistricting plan takes shape," September 16, 2011
  13. KFGO, "Fargo, Bismarck Gain In Redistricting Plan," October 14, 2011 (dead link)
  14., "North Dakota house passes redistricting plan," November 8, 2011 (dead link)
  15. DevilsLakeJournal, "ND Legislature approves new redistricting plan," November 11, 2011
  16. HB 1267, As enrolled
  17. Bismark Tribune, "Committee shapes redistricting process," April 6, 2011
  18. The Republic, "ND constitutional amendment would set up commission for changing voting districts," March 2, 2011
  19. Associated Press, "Initiative to revamp ND legislative redistricting falls short of petition signatures mark," July 5, 2011
  20. Grand Forks Herald, "N.D. LEGISLATURE: What got done?," April 30, 2011
  21. Population Reference Bureau, "2010 Census Deadlines
  22. Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, "2010 NCSL Redistricting Law Guide
  23. FairVote Archive, "North Dakota's Redistricting News," accessed March 14, 2011
  24. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”," accessed February 1, 2011