Port: I guess gerrymandering isn't gerrymandering when Democrats do it?

A former executive director of the Democratic-NPL is calling a redistricting plan aimed at electing more Democrats.

An exterior view of the North Dakota State Capitol building
The North Dakota State Capitol is seen Jan. 17, 2021. Michelle Griffith / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — Based on about three decades worth of election results, North Dakota voters don't like much of what the Democratic-NPL has to offer in terms of candidates or policy ideas.

This is a difficult reality to face. So, much like Donald Trump and his lies about the 2020 election results, our liberal friends have invented an alternate version of reality that allows them to avoid it.

Part of that contrivance is the idea that the NDGOP has found generational levels of electoral success through gerrymandering or drawing political boundaries for partisan advantage.

This is unsubstantiated nonsense, but as an exercise in reality avoidance, I guess it works.

Given this obsession with the gerrymandering lie, it is with a deep sense of irony that I present to you a plan, concocted by former North Dakota Democratic-NPL executive director Jim Fuglie and circulated in the state's left-leaning political circles, which would preempt Republican gerrymandering with ... Democratic gerrymandering?


With the 2020 census completed, North Dakota's lawmakers earlier this year approved plans for a redistricting process that will unfold during the interim. The process will reapportion the state's legislative seats to reflect shifts in the size and geography of North Dakota's population. For instance, deeply conservative western North Dakota has seen a lot of population growth, so they're likely to get more political representation.

Hyperpartisan groups like the left-leaning North Dakota Voters First have already cranked up their noise machine , making preemptive accusations of gerrymandering. Now comes Fuglie, who wants to refer any redistricting plan approved by lawmakers to the ballot while simultaneously offering, on the same ballot, an alternative plan created by Democrats.

One that he states would be explicitly designed to elect more Democrats. Because redistricting with an aim toward producing specific partisan outcomes is OK as long as it's Democrats doing it.

The document Fuglie has been circulating, which was shared with me by Democratic sources who don't wish to be named, calls for these steps:

  • Gather signatures to refer the redistricting plan "as soon as it is signed by the Governor." The referral will create a "crisis," Fuglie writes, which can be taken advantage of.
  • Democrats would then gather more signatures to offer an alternative —let's call it the "Fuglie Plan" — that draws lines more favorable to the Democratic-NPL.
  • The Fuglie Plan would also "blow up" the legislative district map, dramatically reducing the number of districts, something that would almost certainly diminish political representation for rural areas and expand the size of some legislative districts that already larger than some U.S. states.
  • His plan would also reduce state House terms from four years to two.
  • Each legislative district would be subdivided into two House districts.

To put those last two bullet points in context, remember that all three elected representatives from a district — a senator and two representatives — are currently elected to four-year terms and represent the entire district. Fuglie's plan would have each representative on a two-year term, and they'd represent only a portion of the district.

And in case you think I'm exaggerating that Fuglie has partisan outcomes in mind, consider this from his document: "[U]nless we completely blow up the Legislative district map and start over, things are not only going to stay bad for us, but get worse."

Remember, Republicans haven't even produced their plan yet. Fuglie only assumes that it will be gerrymandering and calls for it to be referred to the ballot and defeated by voters because a Republican legislative majority (elected by voters, I'd add) is responsible for it.


If that's not rank partisanship, what is?

Fuglie also makes mention of using out-of-state resources to support this campaign. "Former [Democratic-NPL] chairman Tom Dickson has friends at the national level that can get us a plan. Get the signatures and put it on the ballot," Fuglie writes.

Just so we're clear about what Fuglie is talking about, for partisan political reasons, he wants to get assistance from people who aren't North Dakotans to defeat a redistricting plan created by people who are not only from North Dakota but elected by North Dakotans.

Not all Democrats are on board with Fuglie's ideas. Those that shared his document with me are far from convinced that this tactic is the right approach. Fuglie himself acknowledges resistance, particularly among elected Democrats.

"I know there are concerns among Democrats about the size of some districts and about the Indian reservations if we go to just 40 districts," he writes, going on to dismiss the political importance of the reservations. "I’ve been involved a long time, and I cannot remember the last time there was ever a Native American elected from any of those reservations to the Legislature."

Fuglie also accuses Democratic legislative incumbents of being satisfied with their political minority.


"Historically, the other problem we’ve always had internally is the few Democratic-NPL incumbents we have not wanting to jeopardize their seats. They’ve always preferred to serve in the minority forever rather than take a chance on losing their own seats," he writes.

It's not clear if Fuglie's gimmicks would actually help North Dakota's Democrats. Remember, this is all premised on the delusion that Democrats lose in North Dakota because of gerrymandering and not because of the Democratic-NPL candidates and their espoused policies.

Still, significant policy changes should be aimed at solving a real problem. The problem Fuglie is trying to solve, by deploying the very same tactics he and left-wing groups like North Dakota Voters First are accusing Republicans of, is that North Dakotans aren't electing enough Democrats.

Fuglie and the Democrats should solve that problem by running better candidates more in tune with the sort of policymaking North Dakotans want. They should not be allowed to solve it by rigging the electoral system in favor of liberal candidates.

Though that's what they seem intent on doing. First, it was North Dakota Voters First with a ballot measure last year, which would have made sweeping changes to our state's nomination and voting process .

Now Fuglie plans to fight alleged gerrymandering with ... gerrymandering.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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