LWV takes on legislative apportionment, uphill fight but worth the discussion
Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much these days, but they will be in the same corner when it comes to controlling of the reallocation of legislative seats after completion of the federal census. Redistribution of seats on all governing bodies, except those elected at large, is required to comply with the 1-person, 1-vote mandate.
In California, a move to turn reapportionment over to an independent 14-member nonpartisan committee is vigorously opposed by the legislature. In Florida, a judge had to sidetrack an attempt by the legislature to neuter legislation that would create "Fair Districts."
In North Dakota, the League of Women Voters has accepted the challenge of proposing a constitutional amendment that would create an eight-member independent legislative redistricting commission, seven of whom would be appointed by the state's seven presiding district judges. The eighth member would be appointed by legislative leaders and the chair of the University of North Dakota Geography Department.
At the present time, the legislature reapportions itself, a conflict of interest that would create an ethics uproar if it occurred in the judicial or executive branches of government. It's insider trading at its worst. But no one has challenged the incestuous process since the constitutional convention of the early '70s when Delegate Dick Dobson of Minot proposed a plan similar to that being put forth by the league.
The task before the League is daunting. First of all, legislative redistricting does not get people rampaging in the streets. In fact, most citizens are oblivious to the need, the process or the consequences. Public apathy will make it difficult to gather signatures, conduct an educational campaign, or win final approval.
Second, Republican and Democratic legislators will bad-mouth the idea across the state with unanimity. Located throughout the state, they are in good positions to poison the well at community gatherings. If campaigns in other states are any indication, they will go to great lengths to oppose the measure.
Third, the league will need money to conduct an aggressive informational and promotional campaign, perhaps as much as $100,000. Raising money will be difficult because the measure does not benefit anyone's economic interests. However, the League can take hope in the rare measures that have passed on their merits without big budgets.
The demand these days is transparency. Transparency is not a feature of reapportionment. Because a certain amount of treachery is required to determine who is going to be squeezed out of their legislative seats, decisions evolve through informal conversations, telephone chats, text messages and word of mouth. In the process, Republicans will double-cross Republicans and Democrats will double-cross Democrats.
Hearings will be held but they will be meaningless because the legislative apportionment committee will be rife with self-interest. It will have the computers and the inside information, making public input ineffective. It will have motive to circumvent public input while an independent commission would be on the citizens' side of the issue.
The league has an uphill fight but it will be well worth the public discussion regardless of the outcome.
Lloyd Omdahl served as North Dakota's 34th Lieutenant Governor of the state from 1987 to 1992. Previously he was a professor of political science at the University of North Dakota. He continues to write columns for newspapers across the state of North Dakota.