The long, hard path to change Nevada’s electoral map

Petition drive to change California’s legislative maps has failed, but only after three of the four major parties agreed to a coalition map in 2015 Another attempt to force change in Nevada’s electoral map…

The long, hard path to change Nevada's electoral map

Petition drive to change California’s legislative maps has failed, but only after three of the four major parties agreed to a coalition map in 2015

Another attempt to force change in Nevada’s electoral map has failed after a major funding push failed. The Nevada Independent’s latest effort to force redistricting change, which uses a petition drive to amend the state constitution, reached 272,000 signatures. It would have required a legislative measure to be voted on and required the backing of one third of the state’s House and Senate.

The process of adjusting electoral boundaries in a state with significant desert locations like Nevada is not unlike that in other states where political mapmaking has to do with race. To remedy this, Nevada laws require, to the extent it is legal to do so, that a proportional representation system be used. In the early 2000s, at a time when Nevadans in the House were considered one of the strongest Republican-Democratic partisan power relations in the US, state election officials adjusted the electoral map so the district lines would better fit the population percentage in the southern part of the state, who had not been represented in Congress previously. The changes led to a stronger Democratic voting majority in the congressional districts.

Republican voters objected and sued. The state supreme court declared the maps unconstitutionally gerrymandered and ordered them reworked. But as the citizens behind the most recent effort to change the Nevada electoral district map filed the lawsuit, the Florida supreme court overturned the state’s congressional maps, also under the pretext of legislative gerrymandering, and unconstitutionally disenfranchised voters.

Five groups led by the Nevada-based Common Cause joined forces with proponents of the coalition map used in 2015. To get the map certified, the groups needed to gather nearly 700,000 signatures by the end of August. The original proposed process would have required them to gather 2% of all registered voters. But when the coalition said they needed 1%, there was concern that an already small sliver of those who voted in 2014 would make it a bit easier to qualify.

Instead, it was assumed that 8% of the electorate would have to agree to change the way the state elects its members of Congress. A group of five of the state’s political parties worked with the coalition map proposal on the final version.

Two of the petitions ran out of time before they were certified. The one asking for the modified state election system had 188,000 signatures, but was printed at different rates than the other two petitions, which did not have sufficient validation. The Democrats fought that distribution and a third petition continued to collect signatures.

The initiative to hold a general election in November was an amendment to a state election law. In that case, the deadline for submission to a state agency – which is where the ballot language for a constitutional amendment goes – is 28 days after the application date of the initiative.

As those petitions ran out of time to get certified, they needed to be submitted separately to the state by the deadline of 4 July in order to be printed. When the coalition map was completed, it met the 2% threshold.

As the petition drive for Nevada’s constitution amendment continued to drop off as time wore on, the opposition to the maps turned. Nevada Republicans filed a lawsuit under the pretext of a clause in state law, arguing that the Citizens Redistricting Commission could no longer circulate the petition and signed on to the coalition proposal. That lawsuit failed and the Supreme Court rejected the petition in December as it did the nonpartisan draft created by the campaign. In a 14-0 decision, the supreme court noted, to quote another court: “The challenge to the administrative process that produces what is now a coalition proposal has succeeded: no permissible provision of the administrative regulations has now been enforced.”

“Nevada is now in uncharted territory,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which contributed to the coalition map process. “While there are in many ways inspired people in the Nevada legislature, there is still the possibility that people want to change the system. We hope that now that we’ve seen this motion, the dynamics on Capitol Hill will return to what is important: negotiating with the bipartisan mapmaking commission.”

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