(CN) — A Nevada judge ruled Wednesday that the state’s new congressional and legislative maps will remain in place for the 2022 midterms while claims of partisan gerrymandering move through the courts.
The lawsuit, first filed in November by Republicans from the state’s vast rural areas, claims the maps were purposefully drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature to dilute the voting power of rural conservatives. They sought a preliminary injunction delaying the filing period for candidates to run for office under the new district lines. Senior Judge Robert Estes of the First Judicial District determined at a virtual hearing that it would be unfair to interrupt the early stages of the election process, as it remained unclear whether the maps were truly gerrymanders.
Sondra Cosgrove, executive director of Vote Nevada and history professor at College of Southern Nevada, emphasized in an interview that the court did not rule on whether the maps were gerrymandered, only that the candidate filing period should not be paused until the partisan gerrymandering claims are adjudicated.
“I think the judge did the prudent thing,” Cosgrove said of the Nevada ruling, explaining that the judge could not grant the injunction and delay the filing period without being provided all the evidence and expert testimony to determine the maps were definitively gerrymandered.
“The judge said he’s not ruling on the merits of the case, hasn’t looked at the merits of the case,” Cosgrove said. “It’s just saying things are so new that he’s not quite sure where things are going to land and the election’s basically already started, so it would be unfair.”
The period for candidates to file began Monday. Dozens of candidates for Congress, the Nevada Legislature and statewide office — including the competitive race for governor — have already filed to run in 2022.
Because the filing period had already begun when the hearing was held, Cosgrove said she was not surprised with Estes’ decision. She pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate a GOP-friendly map in Alabama until the case could be decided on its merits, citing in part the proximity to the election.
The maps that will be used in the 2022 election favor Democrats in the drawing of Nevada’s congressional and legislative districts. However, it wasn’t only Republicans who took issue with the maps. Members of the Latino community in Las Vegas voiced frustration after the maps split up a predominantly working class, largely Latino congressional district, ostensibly to bolster the number of Democratic voters in the competitive districts Democrats want to hold onto in November.
Cosgrove, who lives in the district that was fractured, said the 2022 election would ultimately put a spotlight on the fairness of the maps.
“The rubber actually hits the road when you have an election under those maps. One side or the other is going to feel vindicated,” Cosgrove said. “Latinos on the east side are going to find out whether redrawing the district is going to impact them negatively.”
Cosgrove said she doubts the Latino community’s concerns about fairness will be assuaged by the election. She predicted it will force Rep. Dina Titus, the Democrat incumbent, to walk the line between representing the interests of the working class, minority voters who previously comprised the bulk of her district or the wealthier, white communities that are new to her district.
“Here’s the choice she’s going to have to make: do I side with my constituents who I know will turn out to vote for me? Or do I side with the people who are going to write me checks?” Cosgrove said. “If she thinks she’s going to have to spend a lot of money to keep the seat, who’s she going to side with? As somebody who lives in the district, I’m assuming she’s going to go with the money and that we’re going to get pushed to the back.”
Cosgrove also said the election with the new maps could exacerbate the urban-rural divide within the state. She noted the case will be ongoing throughout the election cycle, perhaps culminating in the court ruling that the maps are in fact gerrymanders and must be redrawn once the 2022 election is over, a politically precarious situation for Democrats.
Election reform advocates, including Cosgrove, are steadily gathering signatures to place voter initiatives on Nevadans’ ballots in 2022. Among these is a measure establishing an independent redistricting commission to take the redistricting power from the Legislature.
The attorney representing the Republican plaintiffs in the redistricting suit declined to comment. Lawyers for the Nevada Legislature did not return requests for comment.
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