Tribes call for subdividing districts for chance at legislature

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 6:09 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The state’s redistricting efforts aren’t just about making elections fair for parties, but also for race.

Today, representatives with North Dakota’s tribal nations met with the map makers to give feedback and call for a “special understanding” when drawing the districts for reservations.

Representatives of some of the tribal nations say they feel underrepresented in the state legislature, and want a better chance at having one of their community members win an election.

They said while they’re allowed to run for office, they can’t get elected and are asking for a specific solution.

Each legislative district is given three seats in the legislature: two in the house and one in the Senate. These are at-large votes, where the entire district has a say in all three.

Some tribes are asking for sub-districts, where another line splits a district in two. That way, each side gets to pick one representative.

Some tribes say this will give them a better chance at having a voice.

“What we’re asking from the native point of view is to at least give us that fighting chance. We want to have true representation on the state level also,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith.

Standing Rock is in District 31, which encompasses the reservation, Grant, Hettinger and Morton counties. They’d like to be subdivided by taking out much of Morton County, which they say has different needs and voices than the reservation.

“It doesn’t come down to, for lack of a better word, a ‘temper tantrum’ of not being able to elect people we want. It comes down to having the access to elect somebody or the ability to elect somebody that comes from our community,” said Nicole Montclair-Donaghy, North Dakota Native Vote.

Standing Rock says it accounts for up to 40% of its district this way. It doesn’t ensure a native member of the legislature, but lawmakers question the number and how high the number should be to warrant a subdivision.

“If you subdivided a district and the native population was 50%, that’s pretty easy to argue. When you get down to 23%, that’s less arguable. So in other words, we know what I believe we should do, but there are also those thresholds that we also have to consider,” said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.

But some lawmakers say doing this would actually have the opposite effect. By subdividing, people in those districts would have less of a say in their representation.

“When I look at this subdistrict idea, I’m thinking to myself, well okay, 31A has one representative and one senator. That’s two people. In the past, they would have three people. How does that make for better representation when you’re losing 33% of your representation?” said Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo.

There have been proposals in recent decades which included subdivisions for similar reasons, but were scrapped when the full legislature passed the new lines.

Later in the meeting, lawmakers discussed their maps and how they would accommodate the requests of the tribes. While subdivisions aren’t in any public plans yet, keeping the tribes together is a priority for lawmakers.

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