Gerrymandering happens when lawmakers draw new legislative district boundaries so as to favor themselves and their party in future elections.

In the year following each U.S. Census, legislative district boundaries must be redrawn so that each district has nearly the same number of voters. A committee of legislators updates the state’s district map. In other words, elected officials pick their voters, not the other way around.

Legislators want to be re-elected, so there is a motivation to use the redistricting process for incumbent protection. For instance, a legislator may have moved out of his district. “Let’s move the line so his new house is back in his old district.” Or, “I don’t want to have to run against that person; draw the line so that she’s not in my district.”

North Dakota citizens strongly favor government that is transparent and accessible to the citizens. House Bill 1397, which defines the procedures for North Dakota redistricting this cycle, should be amended to ensure ample opportunity for public scrutiny and input before the final map is drawn.

Guidelines should be included in this bill that encourage the legislators to follow widely recommended criteria, such as trying not to divide city, county, township or tribal areas into different legislative districts. Neither the political affiliation of the residents nor the address of an incumbent or potential candidate should be considered when drawing the lines. North Dakota Voters First is proposing amendments to change HB1397 accordingly because North Dakota voters expect government to be both open and fair.

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Carol Sawicki is chair of North Dakota Voters First.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.