Las Vegas Sun

June 24, 2021

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Redistricting commission effort a waiting game

The campaign against partisan gerrymandering — the use of congressional redistricting to manipulate votes — hit a roadblock earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court declared federal courts should stay out of the issue.

As such, the issue has essentially been kicked to the states.

While Nevada is ranked by some as one of the least-gerrymandered states, there is an effort here to reconsider the way maps are drawn.

The League of Women Voters of Nevada filed a petition with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office in November to, through a ballot question, create a nonpartisan committee to deal with legislative redistricting. It would replace the current method of redistricting in which state lawmakers draw district lines.

“In the state of Nevada, we don’t necessarily have a huge problem with gerrymandering right now, but we do have a problem that the process that we use for redistricting, because it’s in the Legislature, is not open to the public,” said Sondra Cosgrove, the president of the League of Women Voters of Nevada. Under the proposed plan, these meetings would be covered under open meeting laws. 

That process will have to wait for now, as Leonard Jackson, a reverend and executive director of Faith Organizing Alliance, has brought a legal challenge forward stating that the proposed committee doesn’t go far enough in keeping partisan influence out of the redistricting process.

One of Jackson’s major arguments is that while the committee is called “independent” in the petition and certain people such as recent lobbyists would be excluded from being part of it, the appointment of members would come from lawmakers and could therefore not be fully independent.

“The exclusions do not create independence because the appointments are still directly made by legislative leadership,” the opening brief reads. “Thus the exclusions do nothing to ensure that appointees are insulated from political pressures, are not beholden to the legislative leadership and do not stand to gain personal or politically from serving on the Commission.”

Cosgrove said she expects the challenge to be settled and that from what she has seen and heard, most cases like these have easy fixes. She said she thought it would likely be done by end of January.

“These cases tend to get resolved faster than if it was a case against the amendment (itself),” she said.

Though she said gerrymandering isn’t a problem in Nevada like some other states, the measure would allow Nevada to get ahead of any potential problems and also skip a repeat of 2011, when disagreements between the Legislature and governor left redistricting up to the courts.

“We always wait until things are bad here and then we try to fix them, and then it costs way more money and it’s much more painful,” she said.

In Nevada, congressional district lines are drawn during the first legislative session after the end of the census. Lines were last redrawn in 2011 and will next be redrawn in 2021.

That’s an issue for the petition, as for it to be passed into law, it must be passed by ballot measure twice, once in 2020 and once in 2022.

Cosgrove said the petition gets around the issue of the effective dates by allowing any committee formed by the passage of the ballot measures to review the maps that will be passed in 2021.

Essentially, if the committee decides the maps are unfair, they can redo them, Cosgrove said.

“We are hoping this is going to help the political parties not to gerrymander in 2021, knowing that their maps are going to be looked at,” she said.

To get onto the ballot, though, Cosgrove said, the organizers must get about 100,000 signatures by June 16, divided amongst the congressional districts.

“It’s not necessarily a difficult number, it’s that we have a certain percentage from each congressional district,” she said. “So, we have to make sure that it’s not just all (from) one part of Clark County or one part of Washoe County. We have to make sure every congressional district has a certain percentage.”