Nevada group to seek signatures for redistricting initiative

Published Tue, Jan 7, 2020 (9:42 a.m.)

Updated Tue, Jan 7, 2020 (1:49 p.m.)

A Nevada political group plans to start gathering signatures on a petition to have an appointed commission redraw statewide voting maps, a proponent said Tuesday.

The development came after the group Fair Maps Nevada PAC revised and resubmitted its proposed constitutional amendment to take redistricting away from the Legislature.

League of Women Voters of Nevada President Sondra Cosgrove said the filing with the Nevada secretary of state’s office lets the group begin efforts to collect the nearly 100,000 registered voters' names needed by June 16 to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.

The measure would have to pass twice — this year and again in 2022 — to become law. State legislative and U.S. congressional voting districts could then be redrawn in 2023.

A lawyer representing a North Las Vegas church pastor opposed to the initiative said the petition remains flawed and the proposed law should have been entirely rewritten.

Attorney Kevin Benson said he and the Rev. Leonard Jackson haven’t decided whether to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. They had sought a court order to prevent signature-gathering, arguing that the commission wouldn’t work because there is no funding for it and members would still be appointed through the partisan Legislature.

Benson noted that Carson City District Court Judge James Russell found the public summary of the petition contained “materially misleading statements” when it described the proposed commission as independent and referred to the mapping of “fair and competitive electoral districts.”

“This is not really about addressing partisan gerrymandering, but is instead about enshrining in the Nevada Constitution partisan power in an unaccountable, unelected and non-independent commission," the attorney said.

Gerrymandering refers to politicians manipulating voting maps to make it easier for their party's candidates to win elections.

Fair Maps Nevada is backed by the League of Women Voters and the advocacy group Indivisible Northern Nevada.

The league has been working nationally to rewrite state redistricting rules after the U.S. Supreme Court decided last June that states should decide disputes about voting maps.

Russell’s order noted the Nevada Supreme Court requires a proposed state constitutional amendment to contain “a straightforward, succinct and non-argumentative statement of what the initiative will accomplish and how it will achieve those goals.”

The judge accepted amended language proposed last month by Fair Maps Nevada to appease Jackson’s challenge. Jackson sued as a voter who could be affected by the law, not as pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas.

The revisions removed the reference to “independent;” specified that redistricting by the commission in 2023 “could” replace maps drawn by the state Legislature after the 2020 U.S. Census; and declared the process “will result in the expenditure of state funds.”

Congressional and legislative voting districts can be revised every 10 years after the U.S. Census.

Russell allowed language saying the Nevada commission “will ensure, to the extent possible, that the districts comply with the U.S. Constitution, have an approximately equal number of inhabitants, are geographically compact and contiguous, (and) provide equal opportunities for racial and language minorities to participate.”

Redrawn districts also would “respect areas with recognized similarities of interests, including racial, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, geographic or historic identities,” are politically competitive, and “do not unduly advantage or disadvantage a political party.”

The seven-member commission would have four members named by party leaders in the Legislature and three who are neither Republican nor Democrat.

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