BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved a new legislative map Wednesday that reflects a continued loss of political clout in rural areas due to population shifts in the past decade.
Though the map maintains 47 legislative districts, it creates three new districts in the state’s fastest-growing areas but erases an equal amount in population-lean rural regions. The new map also separates House districts on two American Indian reservations in the state, a move tribal leaders believe will increase the odds for electing their own members to the Legislature.
The redistricting plan was drafted by a GOP-controlled committee of lawmakers over several weeks. It was required due to population shifts shown by the 2020 federal census.
The measure won final Senate approval Wednesday. GOP Gov. Doug Burgum is expected to sign it.
Each district is supposed to include approximately the same number of people, although small variances are allowed. The principle is called, “one person, one vote,” and is intended to give each district similar voting power in the Legislature.
The North Dakota House approved the measure Tuesday, after lengthy debate. Several GOP House lawmakers argued against the split districts on reservations, saying it was unfair and unnecessary. Backers said the state faced a federal lawsuit if the split districts were not included in the plan.
A North Dakota legislative district now has one senator and two House members, each elected to represent the entire area. The Legislature has 141 lawmakers — 47 senators and 94 House members. In a subdistrict, the senator would still represent the entire district. It would be split in half for House representation, with one House member representing each half.
The split districts under the new map are on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota and the Fort Berthold reservation, in the heart of the state’s oil patch in the western part of the state and home to the Three Affiliated Tribes.
Turtle Mountain and Three Affiliated were the only tribes of the five in the state that had the needed population to qualify under the federal Voting Rights Act for split House districts, which is about 8,450 people at present for each divided district.
The Legislature currently has three lawmakers who claim Native American or Alaska Native heritage: Fargo Democratic Rep. Ruth Buffalo, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes; Minot GOP Sen. Oley Larsen, a member of Alaska’s Sealaska Corp.; and Sen. Richard Marcellais, a Democrat from Belcourt and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Only Marcellais lives on a reservation.
A move to add split districts on other reservations failed Wednesday, mostly along party lines in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Lawmakers added three new districts in and around the state’s biggest city of Fargo, and Williston and Watford City, where the population has grown with the explosion of oil development in the past decade. The new map eliminates a pair of districts in northeastern North Dakota, and one in the southeastern part of the state.
The plan avoids splitting up 33 of North Dakota’s 53 counties among separate districts.
North Dakota’s population is estimated at a record 779,000, up almost 16% during the last decade, but most of the state’s rural legislative districts continued to lose residents, according to census data.
When the Legislature completed its last redistricting plan a decade ago, district populations averaged about 14,500 people. The new plan adds about 2,000 more people.