Initiative to revamp ND redistricting falls short

Associated Press State Wire: North Dakota (ND) - Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Author: DALE WETZEL - Associated Press
As North Dakota lawmakers begin the work of drawing new legislative districts for themselves, a proposal to give the job to an independent commission has fallen short of the petition signatures it needed to get on the ballot. 

Supporters of the League of Women Voters-backed initiative, which sought to change the North Dakota Constitution, needed to turn in signatures from at least 26,904 eligible voters by Tuesday to qualify for the June 2012 primary election. 

The petition got about 5,000 signatures, said Lois Ivers Altenburg, the chairwoman of the campaign. 

''It was a more difficult concept than we had time to explain to people,'' she said Tuesday. 

Tuesday's end of the redistricting campaign means there are no longer any initiative petitions circulating in North Dakota. Last August, there were 10 pending measures. Initiative supporters have one year after their petitions are approved for circulation to gather the names they need. 

Measures to restrict abortion, legalize the sale of bottle rockets, and raise taxes on beer, wine and liquor were among those that were unable to attract enough backing in the year's allotted time. 

Two initiatives, which seek to abolish property taxes and restrict the government's ability to regulate religious practices, managed to qualify for the ballot. Voters will decide in June whether to approve them. 

''Unlike the petitions that went around eliminating taxes, ours was more complicated for people to understand,'' Altenburg said. 

North Dakota's Constitution and state laws now put the Legislature in charge of redistricting, which is typically done after the federal census is completed every 10 years. The districts that legislators represent are redrawn to account for population changes, and to ensure that each lawmaker represents approximately the same number of people. 

North Dakota lawmakers have already started the task of drawing a new district map. A 16-member committee that will do most of the work has already begun meeting. Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to call a special session this fall to give lawmakers a chance to debate redistricting proposals. 

The proposed constitutional amendment advocated taking the job of redistricting away from lawmakers and giving it to an independent commission. 

Seven of the panel's eight members would have been chosen by the chief administrative judges of North Dakota's seven judicial districts, the amendment said. The job of picking its chairman would have been left to the chairman of the University of North Dakota's geography department and the Republican and Democratic floor leaders in the North Dakota House and Senate. 

Altenburg said the League of Women Voters plans a campaign during the next two to four years to tell voters of the importance of redistricting. After that, Altenburg said she expects the organization will circulate another initiative. 

Even if this year's petition effort had been successful, the new redistricting method would not have taken effect until after the next federal census in 2020, Altenburg said. 

''I think that trying to overcome apathy and disinterest is always hard work, but that's one of the things the League of Women Voters is known for, and we've done a good job on it,'' she said.