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May 17, 2021

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Census delays could bog down redistricting in Nevada

Nevada Legislature 32nd Special Session - Day 1

The Assembly chambers on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent, pool)

Delays in the U.S. Census Bureau’s data release because of the pandemic might also stall the looming work of state lawmakers to redraw voting maps.

The population count is used for once-a-decade redistricting, resetting electoral boundaries of U.S. House, state Assembly and state Senate districts, as well as for some other state bodies.

The 81st session of the Nevada Legislature convenes on Monday.

If the data is not ready before the 120-day session is over or it arrives too late, a special session would probably have to be called to finish the redistricting process.

Census data used for redrawing U.S. House districts was due Dec. 31.

The Census Bureau said projected release dates are “fluid” but it planned to deliver the count in “early 2021, as close to the statutory deadline as possible.”

Nevada is not expected to pick up any seats in the House this cycle.

Data for redrawing voting boundaries for state offices is due on April 1, though it normally rolls in weeks earlier. There is no projection for when it may be released.

As Clark County’s population grows relative to the rest of the state, so does its proportion of representation in the state Assembly and Senate, diluting Northern Nevada’s representation, said Michael Bowers, a political science professor at UNLV.

The Legislature could increase the number of seats in both houses to provide greater representation to Northern Nevada, but it’s an unlikely scenario, Bowers said. The Legislature has 63 members.

“There was an attempt to do this at the last reapportionment session in 2011, but it failed,” Bowers said. “Given that the majority in both houses is Democrat and from Clark County, I would predict that it would fail again in 2021.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, noted that only a simple majority is required to approve redistricting plans.

But he wants to have a conversation “across the board” about how to make maps best reflect Nevada, “not how to best advance any particular political party,” he said. “And we will take that charge seriously.”

Bowers said redistricting in in 2011 was contentious.

Democrats, who held both houses of the Legislature, presented two reapportionment plans that were vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

There was no plan approved by the end of the session, so a state District Court judge, working with a panel of three electoral experts, created a plan.

Such a scenario is unlikely this year because Democrats control both houses and the Governor’s Mansion, Bowers said.