Democrats advance maps, but more changes are expected

By: - November 15, 2021 5:37 am

State Sen. Heidi Gansert raised concerns about how Democrats’ proposed legislative maps treat Washoe County. (Screenshot of live feed)

The Nevada State Senate on Sunday approved a bill containing the congressional and legislative maps they hope to use for the next decade, but they prefaced the vote by noting that adjustments are expected to be introduced in the Assembly.

The Senate vote on Senate Bill 1 fell on party lines, with all nine Republicans opposing and all 12 Democrats approving. SB1 bill now moves to the Assembly, where it is expected to be heard in committee on Monday.

A second bill containing new Board of Regents maps and shifting 2022 filing deadlines for judicial candidates was approved unanimously by both the Senate and Assembly. That bill faced no opposition.

A brief recap of how we got to this point: Democratic legislative leadership unveiled their proposed maps early last week. The Democrats’ proposed maps are expected to expand the party’s political advantage in Nevada elections, particularly within the state Legislature where their lack of a supermajority has led to political theatrics, unconstitutional votes and significant compromises on revenue bills. The Legislature gaveled into the 33rd Special Session on Friday. Democrats have been attempting to advance the redistricting bills as quickly as the legislative rules allow.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro told the chamber a draft amendment was being worked on that would make census population adjustments related to prison inmates. That adjustment needs to happen because federal law requires the population of congressional districts to be as equal as possible. 

Other possible amendments may involve the Walker River Paiute Tribe, the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, Sun Valley in Washoe County and rural communities — all of which are currently split on at least one map. Notably missing from Cannizzaro’s floor comments and a related joint statement released by the Democratic caucuses was any reference to adjusting Latino communities of interest in Clark County — an issue the Nevadans Count Coalition has lobbied hard for since the proposed maps were unveiled.

Cannizzaro said that, even with those adjustments outstanding, the maps up for a vote “do accurately reflect the growing population we’ve seen in the state of Nevada and the growing diversity we’ve seen throughout the state.”

Almost all of the Senate Republicans spoke on the floor in opposition to the bill and its maps. They raised questions about the process and principles of redistricting, offering a preview of legal arguments that will likely be made in court. The GOP, which can do little to stop the passage of the maps by the Democratic majority, is widely expected to challenge the maps.

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer criticized the entire redistricting process, starting with the interim redistricting committee holding public input meetings with no proposed maps available for consideration, the governor issuing the special session proclamation mere hours before it began, and the eleventh-hour census data adjustment, which he described as being 1,868 people.

That last-minute adjustment was related to a 2019 anti-prison gerrymandering law that the Department of Corrections had difficulty completing. Two other state agencies stepped in last week to attempt to help identify and confirm additional addresses.

Settelmeyer said the adjustments, which were announced early Saturday on the second day of the special session, resulted in “invalidating and deleting every map that people had made.”

Settelmeyer also said his caucus director put forth 52 different maps for consideration, including one that would have expanded the number of seats in the Legislature to 75 — the maximum allowable by state constitution.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Washoe) criticized the Democrats’ proposed map for redrawing Washoe County senate districts to favor their own party. Washoe’s voter registration is almost evenly split three ways between Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan/third parties.

“Two-thirds of the voters of Washoe County cannot be heard and will be disenfranchised,” she said.

Redrawing district boundaries so they benefit one political party is not illegal, but some of the organizations and public bodies tasked with redistricting choose to prioritize competitiveness. Maps can be challenged for violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discimination in voting.

Gansert, a moderate Republican, believes the proposed maps will lead to hyperpartisanship and don’t reflect Nevada as a purple state.

In 2016, Gansert won her senate district by 11 percentage points. In 2020, Democrats targeted her seat as one they could potentially flip. Gansert prevailed over her challenger, though she won by a smaller margin of around 4 percentage points.

“I have been honored to serve and I have gained the trust of voters.” she said. “Now it will be impossible to win that district because of the political manipulation of those districts.”

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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, two children and two mutts.

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