(Kyle Gillis/NPRI) – It’s been just one month since the U.S. Census Bureau delivered Nevada’s final population data, but Democratic activists have already submitted a redistricting plan to the state legislature.
Titled “A Grassroots Proposal For Redistricting Nevada,” the proposal is a finalized version of the 2009 draft obtained earlier by Nevada Journal and offers recommendations for redrawing the state’s four congressional districts.
The streamlined 25-page proposal was submitted to the Legislature on March 18, 2011, and includes updated population and voter registration data along with color-coded maps. Unlike the original proposal, the updated version didn’t emphasize “minority districts” or preferred candidates.
Nevada Journal originally attributed the 2009 proposal to the IBEW Local 357’s Political Action Committee, but David Jones, IBEW Local 357’s Business Manager, stated in an e-mail that Local 357’s PAC “has neither created, proposed or endorsed such a plan.”
Local 357 was mentioned in the last paragraph of the 2009 proposal, which said, “It is possible in the future that a formal presentation of the enclosed work will be made to the Nevada Legislature by the Political Action Committee of IBEW Local 357.”
Dwayne Chesnut, one of the co-authors of “Grassroots,” also said that Local 357 had “no connection” to the proposal and that it was written by a group of volunteer Democrats.
Local 357 endorsed Chesnut during his 2010 University Board of Regents primary campaign. But, he said, aside from personal connections to the proposal’s authors, the union was not affiliated with the final “Grassroots” product.
In the newly submitted proposal, the authors reemphasized their “zero gerrymandering” goal, writing, “The effort has been guided by two major principles: equal population in each district and no gerrymandering.”
The “no gerrymandering” claim is warranted, the authors say, because they draw the congressional districts along “distinct boundaries” such as state borders, interstates, major roads, and “other natural demarcations unless there is a good reason to deviate.”
Additionally, the authors say they created nearly equal-sized districts, as required by law.
According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the ideal population for each of Nevada’s four congressional districts is 675,138 residents. While none of the “Grassroots” proposal’s districts contain exactly this number, the proposal’s smallest-population district (CD-2, at 674,167 residents) and largest-population district (CD-3, at 675,806) are within a 1 percent deviation from the ideal population number.
Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School who presented during a March 10, 2011, joint hearing of the Assembly and Senate Operations and Elections Committees, said congressional districts need to be as close to a zero-percent deviation as possible, under U.S. Supreme Court rules. Since the “Grassroots” population falls within a 1 percent deviation, Levitt told Nevada Journal, it may well be “legally sound.”
CD-2 — the seat currently held by Republican Dean Heller — would, under the proposal, have the most registered voters: Just over 51 percent of the voting age population is registered. The proposed CD-4 — slated for Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford in the group’s initial draft — would have the lowest number of registered voters, at 37 percent. CD-3, currently represented by Republican Joe Heck, would have 42 percent registered voters, and CD-1, represented by Democrat Shelley Berkley, would have 40 percent.
Even with largely equal population counts, three out of the four districts designed by the group would have more Democrats than Republicans. Secretary of State data shows that registered Democrats in Nevada currently outnumber registered Republicans by about 100,000 voters. Chesnut, however, notes that other factors such as voter turnout and voting age population sometimes offset perceived Democrat advantages.
If the “Grassroots” draft is adopted, CD-2 would have a 43 percent to 35 percent Republican advantage in registered voters, and CD-4 would have a 48 to 30 Democrat advantage. Additionally, CDs 1 and 3 would both have Democrat advantages: 42 percent to 35 percent in CD-1, and 43 percent to 33 percent in CD-3.
According to “Grassroots,” while registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in CDs 1 and 3, in the 2010 elections a higher percentage of registered Republicans turned out than did registered Democrats in those proposed districts. Chesnut said that proves the districts’ competitiveness.
In their latest draft, the “Grassroots” authors put less emphasis on creating a “minority district” than did their 2009 proposal. While a sizeable Hispanic population remains in CD-4 from the 2009 proposal, creating a “minority” district is not one of the stated goals of the newer draft. In the 2009 proposal, the authors wrote that they wanted a minority district in order to “give our new congressperson a huge advantage.”
However, the newly proposed congressional districts do not give the Hispanic community a significantly larger voice than do the current congressional districts. Currently, CD-1 contains a 37.2 percent Hispanic population, while the “Grassroots” CD-4 would contain 37.6 percent Hispanics.
Under the latest proposal, CD-1’s Hispanic population would fall to 21 percent, CD-3’s would increase from 20 percent to 26 percent, and CD-2’s would remain unchanged at 20 percent.
Mark Braden, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who assisted the Nevada Republican Party during the 2001 redistricting session, thinks a minority district is “inevitable” regardless of the proposal.
“In the end, it depends on who has the pencil,” said Braden. “I’d be quite surprised if [lawmakers] draw a CD that wasn’t controlled by the Hispanic community.”
Braden also expects the Legislature will face more pressure from the Hispanic community for a “Hispanic” district than lawmakers faced during the 2001 session.
“It’ll be impossible for them to ignore a demographic with a quarter of the population,” Braden said. “Legally, they can get away with not creating a minority district, but I think it’s practical to address the Hispanics’ interest.”
In addition to backing off the minority-district goal, the latest “Grassroots” proposal also does not promote any potential congressional candidates, as did the 2009 proposal. In 2009, the authors wrote: “Every member of our group believes our new 2012 general election congressional candidate will be Steven Horsford.”
While Chesnut stated Horsford’s candidacy is an “untested assumption,” he also said the current state senate majority leader is “not a lead pipe cinch” for the Democratic nomination, citing Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and CD-3’s former representative, Dina Titus, as viable candidates.
The “Grassroots” group did not propose redistricting for any state assembly or senate seats. Chesnut said that, ideally, each congressional district would contain an equal number of state legislative districts. Provided the state legislature remains the same size, each congressional district could contain at least five senate districts and 10 assembly districts.
The “Grassroots” authors plan to testify before legislative hearings in Carson City. They testified previously before a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate Operations and Elections Committees in Las Vegas.
Future Joint Committee hearings will be held March 24 in Fallon and April 2 in Las Vegas. For more redistricting coverage, please visit http://www.nevadajournal.com/.
(Kyle Gillis is an investigative reporter at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more information visit http://npri.org/.)