By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — Advocates for creating a non-partisan commission to redraw Nevada voting districts instead of the Legislature are offering to amend a proposed statewide ballot initiative to appease a North Las Vegas pastor who has sued to block it.
Fair Maps Nevada PAC, backed by the League of Women Voters of Nevada, “is interested in amicably resolving this litigation,” attorneys for the organization told Kevin Benson, lawyer for Rev. Leonard Jackson, in a Dec. 17 letter.
Benson didn’t immediately respond to messages about the offer.
A hearing is scheduled Monday in Carson City District Court.
Fair Maps Nevada attorneys filed documents Dec. 13 asking a Nevada judge to dismiss Jackson’s lawsuit and its request for a court order to prevent signature-gathering.
The filing invites the judge to amend the proposed initiative if it is deemed to be flawed.
Sondra Cosgrove, Nevada League of Women Voters president, said Fair Maps Nevada wants to get past Jackson’s legal challenge “so that we can start presenting our anti-gerrymandering argument to Nevada’s voters.”
The league has been working to rewrite state redistricting rules around the country after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in June that federal courts should let states decide disputes about gerrymandering, which is the term for politicians manipulating voting maps to make it easier for their party to win elections.
Congressional and legislative voting districts can be revised following the every-10-years U.S. Census.
Cosgrove maintains the Nevada constitutional amendment would create a “non-partisan, fair, independent redistricting commission.”
The panel would draw, in the words of the initiative, “geographically compact and contiguous” voting districts with about the same number of inhabitants, offering “equal opportunities for racial and language minorities to participate in the political process.”
The seven-member commission would have four members named by the majority and minority leaders of the Legislature and three who are neither Republican nor Democrat.
Cosgrove said backers want to begin gathering signatures. They need more than 98,000 names by June 16 to put the initiative before voters next November. The initiative has to pass in 2020 and again in 2022 to become law. Voting districts could be redrawn in 2023.
The letter to Benson insists it is not an acknowledgment the current wording of the proposed initiative is inaccurate and misleading, as Jackson’s Nov. 26 lawsuit alleges.
It points to five alternative drafts sent to the judge that offer changes including dropping a reference to independent and calling the panel a “citizen redistricting commission” or just “commission.”
Some drafts include language referring to the need for the state to spend money to fund the map-writing panel.
Benson has said 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 lawsuit said a commission won’t work because there is no funding for it and members would still be appointed through the partisan Legislature.