FARGO — It’s appalling that Republican legislators in North Dakota plan to draw up new legislative districts in secrecy. Leaders of both chambers have submitted a bill to do just that.
The timing is hardly a coincidence. Later this year, the results of the 2020 Census will be announced. Then the districts will be redrawn for 10 years. Republicans don’t want you to see how sneaky and cunning they will be. They will make every effort to further reduce the already small number of Democrats in the Legislature.
This is an important reminder of how sorry we should be that we didn’t get to vote on Measure 3 in November. That measure, among other things, would have changed the current corrupt way we redistrict in North Dakota. We didn’t vote on it, because even though more than 36,000 North Dakotans signed petitions to put it on the ballot, it was thrown off the ballot by the North Dakota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court made its ruling after a conservative group called "Brighter Future Alliance" and about 100 North Dakota Republican legislators took legal action to get the measure removed from the ballot.
Clearly, they were opposed to this measure in large part because of its call for redistricting reforms, which would have made the system much more honorable. That’s because instead of the Republican-dominated Legislature drawing the districts to favor themselves, the redistricting would have been conducted by the Ethics Commission.
The system used in North Dakota and many other states is called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is legalized cheating. It’s not democratic and it’s not fair. It makes for noncompetitive races, where the results are basically known before the election. In North Dakota’s case, the Republican legislators carve up the districts to ensure they will be re-elected and Republicans will maintain overwhelming control of the Legislature.
Both major political parties participate in gerrymandering, but the Republicans are better at it, and do it more often. For example, in Wisconsin in 2018, only 44.75% of the vote went to Republican legislative candidates, as Democratic candidates received 205,000 more votes than the Republicans. Nevertheless, the Republicans won 64% of the legislative seats. That’s because Republicans there had gerrymandering down to a science.
With gerrymandering, elected leaders pick their voters. That’s just plain wrong. Voters should pick their elected leaders. There are about 15 states that have independent commissions draw the legislative districts. That’s much more fair. North Dakotans need the Ethics Commission or some other independent commission to make things more equitable here. Here’s hoping we get a chance to vote on this in a future election, and the current bill is defeated.
Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email firstname.lastname@example.org