With no support but their own, Dems clear path for final passage of maps

By: - November 16, 2021 5:19 am

Republican Assemblyman John Ellison holds up a proposed map during a redistricting committee hearing on Nov. 15. (Photo: April Corbin Girnus)

Democrats’ proposed congressional and legislative maps are poised for final passage by the Nevada State Legislature on Tuesday.

After clearing the full Senate on a party line vote Sunday, Senate Bill 1 containing the proposed maps was heard in an Assembly committee Monday and swiftly passed out, also on party lines. The bill is scheduled for a full Assembly vote Tuesday morning, then would need to be concurred to by the Senate before heading to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk for signing.

The adopted amendment by the Assembly committee on Monday addresses some of the concerns that were raised after the Democrats’ original proposed map was introduced last week, but they fell far short of winning over any community groups or members of their rival party.

In fact, zero people testified in support of the amended maps.

“It’s my opinion you took out the most visible, superficial objections that removed our poster board comments,” said Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, who isn’t a member of the committee but was one of several Republicans who spoke in opposition testimony, “but (you) continue to really break up communities.”

One of the tweaks made to the Democrats’ map was to address a pizza slice-shaped carveout in the rural Smith Valley community where Titus resides. At the first hearing for the proposed maps, Titus had called attention to it by bringing an enlarged photo of the strange-looking boundary line. Similarly, state Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-Washoe) had previously presented enlarged photos highlighting changes within Washoe County. Those too were partially addressed by the amendment.

But Republicans still vehemently oppose the maps for their partisanship and are widely expected to challenge them in court. Several argued the maps do not accurately reflect the state’s growing nonpartisan group and swing-state history. Independent analyses have concluded the Democrats’ maps would strengthen their political advantage over the state.

The GOP also takes issue with the fact the proposed maps split more counties and communities than current maps do, and that within the state senate and assembly maps the districts are not as equal in population as the 2011 maps were.

The political bodies or independent commissions tasked with redistricting can prioritize many different principles when drawing maps — political competitiveness, physical compactness, lower political subdivisions and communities of interest. Often those principles conflict with one another.

Democratic talking points in support of their proposed maps have emphasized that the maps increase political power of minority groups and reflect the growing diversity in the state.

But progressive groups representing minority groups don’t agree.

Racial and language minorities are federally protected against discrimination by the Voting Rights Act. But adherence can be open to interpretation. Mapmakers must strike a balance between concepts known as “cracking” and “packing.” Dividing a protected community into different districts — cracking — can open a VRA challenge because it dilutes the voting power of that group. But consolidating too much of one population or putting two distinct protected groups together in one district — packing — can also lead to a challenge because it too can dilute voting power.

Democrats clearly believe they have achieved that balance. A group of mostly progressive organizations known as the Nevadans Count Coalition, which has been working extensively on census and redistricting issues for more than a year now, fear the Democrats’ proposed maps have diluted Hispanic voters.

For example, Congressional District 1, currently represented by Democrat Dina Titus, has been significantly reconfigured, resulting in a population that drops from 45% Hispanic currently to 35%. That results in Congressional Districts 3 and 4 — both districts that have changed party hands since their creation in 2000 and 2010 — seeing their Hispanic populations rise to about a quarter of their total.

Democrats in statements have pointed out that 29 out of 63 proposed legislative districts have a majority non-white population, compared to only seven of the districts drawn in 2011.

But those in opposition pointed out Tuesday that “non-white” is not a protected group under the VRA. Specific racial and language groups are.

Tuesday’s expected passage of the maps is unlikely to put to rest these issues, as legal challenges are widely anticipated.

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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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