Democrats look to improve position in congressional swing districts

By: - November 10, 2021 6:04 am

(Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

In proposed maps for redrawing congressional districts, Nevada’s majority party wants to loosen its grip on a stronghold in hopes of strengthening their political advantage in the state’s two congressional swing districts.

In advance of an expected special legislative session later this week, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday released proposed political maps for Nevada’s four U.S. House districts, 63 state legislative districts and the state board of regents. The maps, or any alternatives approved, would be used for political elections through 2030.

Democrats should have a clear path through Carson City to approve their desired maps. They enjoy majorities in both chambers, and it would be highly unusual for a Democratic governor to veto maps approved by his own party. However, the proposed maps will face public scrutiny and potential legal challenges, which could come from Republicans or citizen groups concerned about partisan gerrymandering.

In order to rebalance the populations of the state’s four congressional districts after a decade of uneven growth, tens of thousands of Nevada residents need to be shifted.

The Democrats’ proposed congressional map would shift thousands of registered Democrats from Rep. Dina Titus’s heavily blue Congressional District 1 into Congressional Districts 3 and 4, which are considered swing districts and have switched party control over the past decade. It does this by shifting the boundaries of CD1 to the south and east -- swapping more left-leaning parts of central Clark County for Henderson and Boulder City.

The proposal would leave CD1 with a voting population that is 40% Democratic, 27.9% Republican and 31.8% registered nonpartisan or third party. The national data-focused political website FiveThirtyEight considers the proposed district ‘highly competitive’ with only a 4-point advantage for Democrats. Current boundaries have the district considered solidly Democratic at D+22.

In exchange, Rep. Steven Horsford’s CD4 and Rep. Susie Lee’s CD3 would become bluer.

CD4, which includes the northernmost parts of the Las Vegas Metropolitan area and the rural central counties of Nevada, would become ‘competitive Democratic’ at D+4.

CD3, which includes the southwest parts of Clark County, would still be considered ‘highly competitive’ but the numbers would shift toward Democrats. FiveThirtyEight has the district moving from R+5 to D+2.

Congressional District 2, represented by Republican Mark Amodei, would remain solidly Republican. That district includes Washoe County and rural counties in northern Nevada. Notably, White Pine County, currently part of CD4, would be moved into CD2.

Instant pushback

After the proposed congressional map was released Tuesday morning, national and local political observers and watchdogs of political gerrymandering instantly identified potential problems, which will no doubt be discussed at the upcoming special session.

Sondra Cosgrove of Vote Nevada, which led a failed effort to create an independent redistricting commission, believes the proposed congressional map splinters the centrally located Latino community in Clark County by using I-15 as a boundary line for CD1.

The proposed map would put the Hispanic population of CD1 at 35.5% -- a significant drop from its current demographic makeup of 44%. CD1 would still have the biggest share of Hispanics, though CD4 comes in close behind with a population of 34.9%. CD2 and CD3 have Hispanic populations in the low 20th percentile.

In 2011, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a congressional map approved by Democratic lawmakers that similarly used I-15 as a boundary line. At the time he accused Democrats of violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Republicans at that time offered proposals to create a Hispanic majority district, which garnered accusations of ‘packing’ -- putting all of a voting block into one district to dilute its political power.

Democrats attempted to pass alternative maps but those too were vetoed by Sandoval. Redistricting found itself settled by a court-appointed panel, which drew the compact CD1 that crossed over the I-15.

Redistricting maps can be challenged in federal court using the Voting Rights Act.

Cosgrove believes problematic maps might also be challengeable in state court because of the Nevada Voter Bill of Rights, which states that “each voter has the right to have nondiscriminatory equal access to the elections system, including, without limitation, a voter who is elderly, disabled, a member of a minority group, employed by the military, or a citizen who is overseas.”

Democratic leaders on their maps

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said the proposed maps “reflect both our growing population and diversity.”

The statement continued, “Throughout the state, we’ve proposed compact districts that keep local communities together, including maintaining representation for rural and northern Nevada and undoing the prior map’s splitting of tribal communities. Reflecting Nevada’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity, these maps strive to both protect and expand the voting power of African-American and Hispanic Nevadans while increasing opportunities for representation for Nevada’s emergent and growing AAPI population over the coming decade.”

In notes accompanying their statement, the Democrats noted that three of the four proposed congressional districts are majority non-white, compared to only one currently. It also noted that their proposal for CD3 contains an Asian-American/Pacific Islander community of interest, with a quarter of the population identifying themselves as part of that group.

The legislative leaders concluded their statement by saying that “look forward to a robust discussion of this proposal during the upcoming special session.”

That special session has yet to be officially announced but could begin as soon as Friday.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.