An effort has been launched to make the boundary changes to political districts after the 2020 Census less subject to manipulation by the major political parties.
Earlier this month, the League of Women Voters Nevada filed a constitutional amendment with the Secretary of State that would create a bipartisan commission to redraw political districts rather than the state Legislature, which currently is dominated in both chambers by Democrats.
The amendment states that its purpose is “to end the partisan practice of gerrymandering by establishing a bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission to oversee the mapping of fair and competitive electoral districts for the Nevada Senate, Nevada Assembly, and Representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The term gerrymander comes from a political cartoon showing a contorted political district — created by the signature of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry in 1812 — to appear to be in the shape of a salamander.
The bid to amend the state Constitution comes on the heels of a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said the federal courts have no role in preventing gerrymandering. The court said that, while partisan redistricting might seem unjust, the Constitution does not give the courts the power to counteract. The court said there are other remedies.
In fact, the court in 2015 ruled that commissions such as the one contemplated by the League of Women voters are constitutional. Even though the Constitution says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature …” the justices in a 5-4 ruling said Arizona could create such a commission by ballot initiative.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion: “The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.’ In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’ The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor.”
Such commissions have been created in 21 states so far.
One problem is that any panel of human beings will bring to such a commission their own biases and objectives. Additionally, while lawmakers are accountable to the voters at the next election, not so such commissioners.
The League contemplates a panel made up of seven members, one appointed by the state Senate majority leader, one by the state Senate minority leader and one each by the Assembly majority and minority leaders. Those four would then appoint three commissioners who would be unaffiliated with either of the major parties.
If enough initiative signatures are obtained, the measure would have to be approved by voters in 2020 and 2022 and lines would be redrawn in 2023.
The problem may be less with the makeup of the panel than the incomprehensible number of special interests and demographics and objectives outlined by the amendment. It states, “The Commission will ensure, to the extent possible, that the electoral districts comply with the United States Constitution, have an approximately equal number of inhabitants, are geographically compact and contiguous, provide equal opportunities for racial and language minorities to participate in the political process, respect areas with recognized similarities of interests, including racial, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, geographic, or historic identities, do not unduly advantage or disadvantage a political party, and are politically competitive.”
Try mucking out all those stables, Hercules.
May we be so bold as to suggest an alternative? Rather than creating a commission, put out for bid a contract for computer programmers to create a software that would begin at one corner of the state and then — for creating U.S. House seats — encompass one quarter of the state population, then another quarter until four districts of equal population and contiguous districts are drawn. Repeat the process for the 21 state Senate seats and the 42 Assembly seats. The chances of that fairly including members of all political parties and minorities and special interests is just as likely as what any commission could conjure.
No matter how it is done, someone will squawk.
Correction: Statements attributed to former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt in a previous column were mistakenly misconstrued. Laxalt said he believes 90 percent of lawyers “coming out of law school today” are liberals. He also said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will be “more” conservative due to President Trump’s nominees.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/