RENO, Nev. (CN) — Democrats in Nevada are facing claims of gerrymandering from the left, right and center after redistricting the Legislature and its four Congressional seats.
A contentious and consequential special legislative session ended Nov. 16 with the passage of Senate Bill 1, finalizing the Silver State’s district maps for the next decade. Every Republican and one Democrat voted no, and the GOP decried the bill as a Democratic power grab. Of the 15 states where the 2020 presidential election fell within a 10-point margin, Nevada is the only one where Democrats have the governorship, majorities in the Legislature and complete redistricting control.
“What’s hurting Democrats is they’re trying to say because there are fewer blue states gerrymandering, ‘We don’t gerrymander, it’s just the Republicans,’” said Sondra Cosgrove, executive director of Vote Nevada and history professor at College of Southern Nevada. “We are gerrymandering just as bad. It’s just easy not to pay attention to us because you’ve got Texas, North Carolina and Ohio, which are huge gerrymandering cases.”
Adam Podowitz-Thomas, senior legal analyst from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, said there was a “good possibility” that gerrymandering suits could be filed in all 50 states.
“This is going to be perhaps the most highly litigated redistricting cycle we’ve ever seen,” Podowitz-Thomas said. “It’s going to be a lot on the courts and judges to figure out.”
On Nov. 17, two Republicans from sprawling Nye County sued claiming partisan gerrymandering violates the state’s voter bill of rights. The Republican plaintiffs, Assemblyman Gregory Hafen and former county commissioner John Koenig, claim the districts were designed to weaken rural voters’ influence outside the more populous Clark and Washoe counties. The new map splits Pahrump, the conservative Nye County seat, and divides the ruby-red county into three different Assembly districts.
“I think the case that’s being made is strong,” said Doug Goodman, director of Nevadans for Election Reform. “[The Legislature] definitely split communities of interest by depriving the rural residents of Nye County a chance of having somebody elected and represent them in the Legislature. No question, [the maps] are partisan gerrymanders.”
Requests for comment sent to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and multiple members of the Legislature went unanswered. But Goodman voiced concern about the Legislature’s largely unfettered control over redistricting, saying it allows their power and influence to expand and disregards Nevada’s growing nonpartisan voting bloc.
According the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and FiveThirtyEight, Nevada’s new congressional map has one Republican-leaning seat and three that lean slightly Democratic which are currently held by Democrats. A once solid-blue district was divided, ostensibly to shore up support for the Democrats facing tough reelection fights in 2022.
Podowitz-Thomas explained Nevada’s maps aren’t “durable” like many partisan gerrymanders are.
“The Democratic Party gave itself such small majorities in the three districts they’re going to control that it’s a risky proposition for them over the next decade,” Podowitz-Thomas said, noting all four congressional seats could feasibly go to Republicans during a strong GOP election.
Several Latino groups from Clark County’s liberal core fiercely opposed the maps.
Cosgrove said her predominantly working-class, Latino neighborhood in east Las Vegas is rife with frustration. She said their new congressional district will no longer have a racially diverse, working-class electorate of the “same socioeconomic strata.” Instead, the Democrats “blew up their base,” splintering the once solid-blue district and adding many white, wealthier communities.
“If I was a Democrat, I would be secretly praying the court came in and overturned [the maps],” Cosgrove said, noting the anger within communities of color regarding redistricting. “If these maps stay, [Democrats] could face losing just because people are mad at them and don’t show up.”