By Rick Gion, director, North Dakota Voters First, Fargo
The 2021 North Dakota legislative session will go down in the history books as one of the strangest in the state’s history. We saw lengthy debate on issues such as legislator meal reimbursements and also an expulsion of an ill-behaved lawmaker.
Additionally, many bills regarding election and voting issues were frequently in the news. Here’s a brief overview of some of those pieces of legislation.
HB 1182 would have created an option to make local races like city commission partisan. Thankfully, this bill was defeated in the House. It would have potentially injected partisan rancor into local races.
HB 1289 would have increased voter residency thresholds to one year instead of the current 30 days. Many advocacy groups said it was unconstitutional. Thankfully, it didn’t make it out of committee.
HB 1312 attacked vote-by-mail and absentee voting. It was voter suppression, and it failed by a large margin in the House.
HB 1373 would have initially slashed early voting days from 15 to 7. Early voting is secure, and it helps increase voter participation. It passed the House, but thankfully failed in the Senate.
HB 1397 creates a committee of legislators to redraw legislative district lines later this year based on the 2020 U.S. Census. An amendment to HB 1397 opened draft maps to public view and comment. This was a step in the right direction regarding transparency.
SB 2271 would have hidden North Dakota presidential election vote totals until after presidential electors meet. Instead, the approved version was amended and became a statement and study opposing the idea of eliminating the electoral college to elect the U.S. president.
As you may have noticed, many of the voting-related bills this session were solutions in search of problems and were modeled after restrictive legislation found in many other states.
However, one really good bill we’d like to highlight actually increases access to voting. HB 1447 was approved and will make it more convenient for North Dakota college students to vote. This is good legislation that had bipartisan support.
All in all, this legislative session was one for the history books. And, we’re very thankful the severe bills aiming to decrease access to voting were defeated or withdrawn.
Moving forward, our organization will be tracking the legislative redistricting process throughout 2021, and we invite interested voters to do the same.