FARGO — Ideas for North Dakota’s new political map are swirling as lawmakers charged with redrawing the state’s legislative districts consider how to divide up booming cities and increasingly desolate rural swaths of land.

The 16-member redistricting committee met in Fargo on Wednesday, Sept. 8, to discuss preliminary proposals for redrawing district lines in Fargo, Grand Forks and Williston areas and to solicit input from the public, though they received very little.

The committee of 14 Republicans and two Democrats must create new districts that are roughly equal in population using fresh figures from the 2020 census. But due to pandemic-induced delays in the national headcount, the panel has only a few short months to generate a map before the full Legislature considers the plan, likely during a special session in November.

GOP Rep. Bill Devlin, who chairs the committee, said each member of the geographically diverse group will work on plans for the areas where they live before the panel tries to fit each piece of the state into a puzzle comprising 47 districts, each with about 16,500 residents. Committee member Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said it’s as though the plans presented Wednesday were “drawn on an Etch A Sketch” because no part of the map is set in stone.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Fargo was front of mind Wednesday, with the committee spending much of the meeting discussing ways to carve up the state’s largest metro area. The city’s population grew by nearly 20% between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, while West Fargo shot up almost 50%.

The area’s expansion means it will have more representation in the next Legislature than it does in the current one.

“The good news is that Cass County is growing and we’ll get another district,” said committee member Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo.

A decade ago, lawmakers created 10 districts lying completely within Cass County, but cut off rural slivers of the county to give to three other districts. This time around, the population figures suggest the county could fit nicely into 11 whole districts — about 23% of the seats in the Legislature.

Sen. Ron Sorvaag, a Fargo Republican, and House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, a Fargo Democrat, expressed a desire to keep Cass County’s districts self-contained, though they acknowledged they would be open to slicing off rural western pieces of the county if bordering districts need to add more population.

Boschee presented his plan for Cass County, which disregards the location of current legislative districts and creates new lines based on city boundaries and major thoroughfares like Interstate 94. The draft makes Horace and rural Cass County into its own district and breaks the heart of the metro area into 10 districts that mostly keep Fargo and West Fargo separate.

The minority leader said the rural section of the county should have its own district because rural voices become diluted when folded into urban-majority districts. Boschee added that he doesn’t see many difficulties in drawing Cass County’s districts, and challenges only arise when lawmakers needlessly try to maintain the boundaries of current districts or protect incumbents.

Sorvaag said he agreed with some of Boschee’s ideas but took issue with his colleague’s lack of consideration for current district lines, noting that continuity should be a part of the mapmakers’ guiding philosophy. He added that he’s not concerned with keeping rural and urban areas separate, saying he thinks he brings value to both rural and urban constituents in his district, which extends well north of Fargo.

The Republican didn’t present a specific concept for sectioning up Cass County on Wednesday because he said he wanted to hear from locals before pushing out a plan. However, he said he’ll be coming out with a draft map in the next few weeks.

Holmberg, a four-time veteran of the redistricting process, put forward a proposal for the northeastern corner of the state that maintained four districts in and around Grand Forks, as well as rural districts encompassing the rest of Grand Forks County and Cavalier, Pembina, Walsh and Nelson counties.

Republican Sen. Brad Bekkedahl pitched a rough sketch of northwestern North Dakota that featured a new district in his hometown of Williston, which doubled in population between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

Other members of the committee said they will soon release redistricting plans for Bismarck and Dickinson, both of which grew by more than 20% over the last decade. Once some of the larger cities have been marked up, Devlin said the committee can start to fill in the rural areas on the reconfigured map.

The committee plans to meet again Wednesday, Sept. 15, and Thursday, Sept. 16, in Bismarck.

North Dakota's population has boomed since 2010 as the Fargo area and western Oil Patch saw massive growth. Troy Becker / Forum News Service
North Dakota's population has boomed since 2010 as the Fargo area and western Oil Patch saw massive growth. Troy Becker / Forum News Service