(Kyle Gillis) – State legislators are going back to the drawing board — literally.
Census-data projections indicate Nevada will receive a fourth congressional district next year. So lawmakers are already tentatively redrawing the state’s congressional districts to accommodate the new one.
While official census numbers won’t be available until the end of the year, State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle says that he still expects Nevada to gain a fourth district.
“Based on estimates, we’re very close and in the ballpark for a new seat,” he said.
In preparation for the upcoming redistricting session, nine state lawmakers have been meeting as the Nevada Legislature’s interim Committee to Study the Requirements for Reapportionment and Redistricting.
The Democrats on the committee, chaired by Tick Segerblom (D-Clark), have prepared an early draft map for the four congressional districts. Under their plan, the fourth congressional district includes part of northern Clark County and stretches into Nye and Lincoln counties.
“There’s a lot of work in the session, and redistricting doesn’t require two-thirds of votes to pass,” observed Steven Horsford, state senate majority leader (D-Clark) and vice chair of the committee. “There’s a lot of work in the [redistricting] session and I hope we reach a consensus.”
Unlike previous district maps, the Democrats’ proposal is traced along streets and railroads. Their newest CD-1 (Congressional District 1) would give Democrats a 12.96 percent lead in registered voters. In CD-3 Democrats would have a 16.38 percent advantage, and in CD-4 their lead would be 33.48 percent.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Abrams v. Johnson, districts must be drawn to be more or less equal on the basis of population, as opposed to party registration or active voters.
“Obviously we need to follow federal law,” said current assemblyman and senator-elect Mo Denis (D-Clark). “I’m sure everyone will look out for their best interests throughout the process, and it’s important everyone has a say in it.”
The fourth congressional district as proposed by the Democrats includes all of Clark County north of East Charleston Boulevard and extends eastward to the Arizona state line. The district would also include Mesquite and Indian Springs.
“Right now, plans are speculation-based until the numbers come out,” said Hardcastle. “In the spring, more concrete plans will start getting laid.”
Nevada Republicans, who picked up seats in last Tuesday’s election but remain the minority party, will develop their proposal soon, according to former assemblywoman Heidi Gansert (R-Reno), a committee member. Other Republicans currently on the committee include new state Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness (R-Fallon) and former minority leader Bill Raggio (R-Washoe).
“Redistricting is something that needs to get done, and we need to make sure we take into account high-growth areas,” said Gansert.
In addition to redrawing current districts, lawmakers also have the option of expanding the Legislature. According to Article 15, Section 6 of the Nevada Constitution, “the aggregate number of members of both branches of the Legislature shall never exceed seventy-five.” Currently, the Legislature has 42 assembly members and 21 senators, leaving room for another 12.
“‘Do we expand the Legislature?’ is always a question that gets asked,” Denis said. “The Legislature is built to expand and it may be required so minority districts and the rurals receive adequate representation.”
According to David Damore, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, legislative expansion has been suggested but never wholly embraced during previous redistricting sessions.
“Expansion is always a bargaining chip at the table,” said Damore. “The problem is that if Republicans propose it to counter [Democrats’ plan], then they appear to support a bigger government, which is something they rail against.”
During the 2001 redistricting session, the Legislature was split, with a Republican majority in the Senate and a Democrat majority in the Assembly. According to Damore, then-assembly speaker Richard Perkins (D-Clark) and then-senate majority leader Raggio debated the idea of an expanded legislature before compromising. That compromise gave Democrats the state districts they desired, in exchange for permitting the then-new third congressional district to lean Republican.
Said Damore: “2001 was a tough session, and I’d expect another rough time. A new [congressional] district will definitely be a hot debate.”
For legal ramifications of the redistricting process, see the previous story in this series, titled, “Why are most of Nevada’s registered voters in GOP districts?’
(Kyle Gillis is an investigative reporter at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more information visit http://npri.org)