Heitkamp Is Right: North Dakota Needs Another Census

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In April of last year I wrote that North Dakota needs to do another census. Population in western North Dakota is growing too fast for a once-a-decade count to be worth much of anything.

Now Senator Heidi Heitkamp is calling for the same thing:

Shirley Meyer, the western area director for Heitkamp and a former state representative, said last week at a Dunn County Commission meeting that she wants to compile statistics on what is happening in the region, especially in the oil- and gas-producing counties of the state.

“Just the sheer numbers really weigh into the federal funding component,” she said.

If the state would conduct a new census, Meyer said the count would likely not be able to happen until next year, but the process could get under way.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Dakota’s estimated 2012 population was 699,628, in comparison to 684,740 in 2011 and 672,591 in 2010, the last year a national census was conducted.

Meyer said the state would have to pay for the new census to be conducted, but it could make a difference financially.

“For every person not counted in North Dakota, it costs us $10,000 over the decade,” she said. “It’s very interesting to see the numbers. In Dickinson, we’re going to go from 17,000 (people) to over 40,000. That’s like taking the entire town of Mandan and sticking it in Dickinson and we’re supposed to deal with that somehow.”

It’s hard to make public policy decisions without sound data to base those decisions on. I have no doubt that Heitkamp and others want another count to make it easy to funnel federal dollars into the western part of the state. We can debate about whether or not that’s a good thing (really, we should be looking for ways to minimize federal dollars in the state), but there are a lot of good and practical public policy reasons to have sound population data.

Another side benefit would be that it would afford the state another opportunity for redistricting. The 2010 census was taken before most of the rapid growth in western communities. Another census would likely award more legislative representation to the western part of the state (which, generally speaking, would probably be good for Republicans).

The state constitution says this on redistricting:

The legislative assembly shall fix the number of senators and representatives and divide the state into as many senatorial districts of compact and contiguous territory as there are senators. The districts thus ascertained and determined after the 1990 federal decennial census shall continue until the adjournment of the first regular session after each federal decennial census, or until changed by law.

Or until changed by law. And if we go to the law, specifically 54-03-01.5 of the Century Code:

A legislative redistricting plan based on any census taken after 1999 must meet the following requirements…

On any census. If we take another census in the coming years, the legislature could also go through redistricting. Which would be a good idea moving us toward a more fair representation of the entire state in the legislature.