An anti-gerrymandering protest in Washington, D.C. in October, 2017. (Photo: Olivier Douliery, Getty Images)
An effort to take the power to draw Nevada’s political boundary lines away from the Legislature and place it in the hands of an independent redistricting committee has been officially resurrected for the 2022 election cycle.
Sondra Cosgrove, who led a failed effort to get the same proposal onto the 2020 ballot, believes her group, Vote Nevada, has a better chance at qualifying for the ballot this time around.
Their proposal would create an independent redistricting commission that every 10 years would be tasked with redrawing the boundary lines of Nevada’s state legislative and congressional districts. That task is currently relegated to the Legislature and therefore a highly political process. Redistricting also largely happens behind closed doors because the Legislature exempted itself from state open meeting laws.
The redistricting commission would have seven members: four appointed by legislative majority and minority leadership and three additional members appointed by the first four appointees. The members cannot be current or recent politicians, candidates or lobbyists, and they cannot have been registered to one of the two major political parties in the past four years.
The commission would be subject to the state’s open meeting laws and be beholden to the redistricting principles set by Nevada courts in 2011. That year, Republican Gov. Brain Sandoval vetoed maps approved by the Democratically controlled Legislature, creating an impasse that pushed the task to the court system, which appointed a three-person master panel. The principles include ensuring that “districts, when considered on a statewide basis, do not unduly advantage or disadvantage a political party.”
Cosgrove said the goal isn’t necessarily to make the process entirely nonpolitical — that task might be impossible — but instead to keep the redistricting process open and transparent.
Last month, the Nevada Legislature convened a five-day redistricting special session that was widely criticized for its partisanship and lack of transparency. Democrats, which hold a majority in both chambers, needed no support from Republicans to pass their preferred maps, which were quickly and unceremoniously signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Perhaps knowing the issue might inevitably go to court, Democrats were tight-lipped and provided little insight into the reasoning behind specific map choices, which had been designed behind closed doors by consultants the party declined to identify.
That process was in stark contrast to the processes by many of Nevada counties, cities and school districts where mapmakers attended community meetings, displayed map options in advance, solicited feedback and answered questions. In the case of Clark County School District, public feedback on three proposed options was negative enough the school board requested two additional maps be created using community feedback. One of those additional maps was eventually approved by the school board.
“We told you,” said Cosgrove of the Legislature’s process. “We warned you.”
The Democrats’ approved maps were universally panned by advocates and community groups, including some that lean heavily left on political issues. The approved maps are currently being challenged in court.
Cosgrove said in the wake of the redistricting special session people have continuously reached out to ask whether Vote Nevada would once again attempt to create an independent commission. She and other organizers had already planned to, but they hope the renewed interest and lingering frustrations will lead to more widespread support for reform.
“They’ve said, ‘We get it now,’” she added.
Vote Nevada expects fewer legal hurdles this go around because the language of the proposal was already challenged and settled by the Nevada Supreme Court last year. They also expect a broad coalition of support.
To qualify for the ballot, Vote Nevada will have to gather the signatures of roughly 142,500 registered voters — evenly divided between the state’s four congressional districts. (That equals 10% of the total number of voters who cast ballots during the last general election.)
The independent redistricting commission proposal is one of two political reforms potentially headed to the ballot box in 2022. The first, a proposal to switch to a new election system that combines open primaries and ranked choice voting, was filed last month. It is currently being challenged in court by a top Democratic lawyer.
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