Anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative resurrected for 2024 election cycle

By: - November 17, 2023 6:07 am

Nevada’s political boundary maps were last redrawn during a special special in November 2021. (Photo: April Corbin Girnus)

Fair Maps Nevada on Tuesday filed two notices of intent to circulate petitions for the 2024 general election ballot. Both are proposed constitutional amendments that would strip the power to draw the state’s political boundary maps away from the state legislature and create an independent redistricting commission.

If either initiative qualifies for the ballot, it would need to be approved by voters in 2024 and again in 2026 to be enacted.

The only difference between the two petitions is the date in which a newly formed independent redistricting commission would have to draw its first political maps. In one version, that date is 2031 and aligned with the current legally required redrawing of political boundaries after each decennial census. In the second version, that date is accelerated to 2027 — meaning new maps would be used for the 2028 election cycle and then the commission would adjust maps again in 2031 in alignment with the decennial census.

Sondra Cosgrove, who leads the Fair Maps Nevada PAC, said voters are currently disenfranchised by the state’s political maps, which were redrawn in fall 2021 by a Democratic-controlled legislature and approved by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. Correcting through an independent commission as soon as legally allowable would be ideal, added Cosgrove, but the 2031-deadline version might better survive expected legal challenges because it was evaluated by courts three years ago.

Fair Maps Nevada filed an identical anti-gerrymandering proposed constitutional amendment for the 2020 general ballot, but the political action committee failed to gather the required number of signatures to qualify. That effort was first delayed by court challenges and then affected by covid pandemic shutdowns in spring 2020, which made the physical act of signature gathering difficult.

PACs typically spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside firms who specialize in signature gathering on ballot initiatives. To qualify for the ballot, the group must gather 102,362 valid signatures from registered Nevada voters, including at least 25,591 signatures from each of the state’s four congressional districts.

Fair Maps Nevada doesn’t currently have deep-pocketed donors but Cosgrove says she is hopeful the timing might be right for a more grassroots approach to be successful, or for financial backing to come in.

Nevada is already a focal point in a separate political reform proposal that is similarly being championed as a way to disempower the two major political parties. Question 3 proposes a constitutional amendment that switches Nevada from closed political primaries to an open primary/ranked choice voting system for major elections. Question 3 was approved by 53% of voters in 2022 and will appear again before voters (again as Question 3) in 2024 for final approval.

“We might have the magical combo to do this without a million dollars,” said Cosgrove, noting that because of Question 3 she and others have been in the community speaking to nonpartisan voters.

Question 3 has been challenged by Democrats and Republicans lawmakers alike.

In contrast, the concept of an independent redistricting commission has been openly embraced by some Nevada Republicans. Most recently, then-state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer during the 2021 Legislative Session sponsored such legislation, but that proposal was never given a hearing. Kieckhefer now serves as chief of staff for Gov. Joe Lombardo.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project in October released a “Redistricting Report Card” and rated Nevada’s partisan fairness as F, with the new maps providing a significant Democratic advantage at the congressional level.

Due to the staggered terms within the Nevada State Senate, the full impact of the political maps approved in 2021 has not yet been felt within the Nevada State Legislature. But it might be evident next year. Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly but not in the Senate.

Lombardo, who this year set a record for issuing the most vetoes during a single legislative session, has said he is making a concentrated effort to help elect Republicans to the legislature and keep a Democratic supermajority at bay. With a supermajority in both chambers, Democrats could override any gubernatorial veto.

Other ballot initiatives and petitions

On Nov. 8, Repair the Vote PAC filed a notice to circulate a petition to amend the state constitution to require photo identification at polling places and add requirements to voting by mail. The PAC filed a similar effort for the 2022 general election but an unfavorable court ruling derailed the effort.

On Nov. 6, Schools Over Stadiums, a PAC established by the Nevada State Education Association, was dealt a legal blow on their proposed referendum, which sought to repeal a public funding component from the Oakland A’s baseball stadium bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year. Schools Over Stadiums has appealed that ruling and announced plans to separately challenge the constitutionality of the ballpark bill.

Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom — a PAC founded by Planned Parenthood Votes, NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada and the ACLU of Nevada — has proposed a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights and other reproductive health protections into the state constitution.

Five statewide ballot questions are already approved for the 2024 general election. In addition to Question 3 on open primaries/ranked choice voting, voters will consider removing the Board of Regents from the state constitution, updating antiquated language in the state constitution related to people with disabilities, removing from the state constitution language on slavery and involuntary servitude, and exempting diapers from sales tax.

The complete list of 2024 initiatives can be found with the Nevada Secretary of State.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. 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.