Tempers flare as ND House approves subdistricts

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 6:12 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The State House has approved a redistricted map with a controversial attachment: two subdivisions.

After nearly two hours of debate, state representatives are moving forward with the map after a late attempt to remove them on the House floor.

Subdivisions have never been in the state assembly, but other states are adopting them and the courts are ruling in favor of them.

Before the vote was taken, the debate focused heavily on subdividing, where a district is split in half, and each half gets to pick one member of the House, rather than the whole district picking two. Both sides of the argument said it was a difficult debate.

The conversation on the floor was fueled by debates over voting rights, equal representation, and even the rules of the debate itself.

Some members supporting the subdivisions said they don’t fully back the decision, but they said the maps must follow federal law and decisions of the court.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you to ignore federal law. I care too much about this country to do that. I’m firmly convinced that we have no choice under the federal law and the Constitution,” said Redistricting Chair Bill Devlin, R-Finley.

Intertwined in the discussion was the question of motive for subdivisions at all. Tribal nations requested subdivisions because they felt their candidates don’t get a fair shake in elections.

“Some of the comments that were made of ‘this is just the result of losing an election.’ And I don’t believe that to be true. I disagree in a very repsectful manner. This has been a long-standing conversation,” said Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo.

But there was heavy opposition. Especially from the House member who’s district is being split. He argues he has represented the district well, including his tribal constituents. He also argued against the thresholds justifying the subdistrict.

“In North Dakota... the North Dakota I live in... I have not seen racial animus that affects our elections. I don’t believe that it’s here,” said Rep. Terry Jones, R-New Town.

Another member of a subdivided district appealed to the lack of uniformity across the state. He said the voters for these districts are disadvantaged because they only pick one representative, where all other districts can pick two.

“Those two districts don’t have equal power from our North Dakota constitution, because they can only vote for one representative,” said Rep. Clayton Fegley, R-Berthold.

At a point, things seemed to boil over, and some in the chamber felt the redistricting didn’t support incumbents enough. Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-N.D., of Minot directly questioned Majority Leader Chet Pollert if he felt the process was fair. When Pollert described the series of public meetings, Hoverson responded with “I just would really like to see some spine in our leadership.”

Pollert didn’t respond on the floor, but said later that emotions were running high and that he “doesn’t have time for that.”

There are still more steps to take and the fight for or against a subdivide isn’t over. The map now goes to the Senate to be voted on where they can decide whether to keep the map as is or remove the subdivisions.

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