As former elected officials of opposite parties, Republican and Democratic-NPL, we both know our open records laws are crucial to holding our representatives accountable to the people who put them in office.
The North Dakota Senate is considering a HB 1397 which exempts draft redistricting plans from our open records laws. While elections allow us to choose representatives, redistricting allows our representatives to choose who they want their voters to be. HB 1397 hides the creative work of redistricting from us, the public, leaving us only the choice of expensive litigation to correct problems we may see in the final redistricting scheme. This process lets the Legislature ignore public input at the critical stage where lines are being drawn. Since North Dakota is now largely a one-party state, redistricting is not mainly about partisan politics, rather it is about incumbency. You can bet the final plan will protect the incumbents. People are, and ought to be, very interested in where the lines are drawn.
HB 1397 in section 4 exempts draft maps from our Open Records Laws. This will severely limit the knowledge available to the public about the redistricting process, thus limiting the ability of the people to hold their elected officials accountable.
We urge the Senate to reject any attempt to remove transparency from the redistricting process. This is not a partisan issue. The people can examine all the bills, testify for or against a wide range of bills including marijuana, sexual orientation, and the many details of the budget. What makes redistricting so secret the people cannot see what is going on as the lines are being drawn?
Sarah Vogel served as North Dakota's agriculture commissioner from 1989 to 1996. Bob Wefland served as North Dakota's attorney general from 1981 to 1984.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.