CARSON CITY — The political power game of drawing political boundaries escalated today as Nevada’s Democratic legislators passed their plans for new political districts.
Legislators will deliver the proposal for new Congressional and state Assembly and Senate districts to Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Republican governor has said before that he will veto any redistricting plan that he does not deem “fair.”
Republicans today contended that the Democratic plan was not fair.
“While the [population] numbers are equal [between districts], the numbers slanted toward the Democrats are somewhat unfair for the Republicans in the minority,” said Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, on the Assembly floor.
The governor has until Monday to veto the bill. If the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the Republican governor cannot reach a compromise, the drawing of political districts could end up in the hands of Nevada’s judges.
Although the budget overshadows the legislative session, redistricting offers politicians an opportunity to blend combinations of voters to their favor. Although ostensibly governed by equal populations between districts, redistricting is an inherently political process.
“Every 10 years we get to select the voters that will be voting for us and we have a special responsibility to be fair in this process,” said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, on the floor of the Assembly.
The Senate vote for the Democratic proposal broke along party lines with an 11-10 vote. In the Assembly, all Republicans voted against the proposal, joined by Democratic Assemblyman Harvey Munford, who said he was unhappy with how his party redrew his Las Vegas district.
Both Democrats and Republicans have focused much of the debate about political districts on Nevada’s growing Hispanic community. Hispanics now comprise 26 percent of Nevada’s population and are a voter bloc that both parties cannot ignore.
One in seven eligible voters in Nevada are Latinos, the sixth-largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Democrats would like to establish “minority influence” districts where ethnic minority populations comprise an influential voting bloc in several districts.
Republicans argue that Nevada should have a majority-minority “opportunity” district because 26 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic and therefore one of the state’s four congressional districts should be majority Hispanic.
Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said the Democrat plan ignores the intent of the federal Voting Rights Act for congressional districts by failing to ensure fairness in representation for the Southern Nevada Hispanic community
The Republican plan created one of four congressional districts with 50.7 percent total Hispanic population. The Democrat plan creates no such district, which is in violation of the act, Hardy said.
“This plan actually creates four districts in which whites make up a significant majority,” he said. “Any plan that does not begin with an attempt to create a majority Hispanic district in Clark County fails to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act. It is something I personally cannot ignore in good conscience.”
On the Assembly floor, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, asked whether this logic implied that only a Hispanic majority could elect a Hispanic candidate.
“Nevada has proven that Hispanic and other minority candidates can and have been elected in minority influence districts,” she said.
Sandoval, Nevada’s first Hispanic governor, was elected with a majority of the white vote while losing the Hispanic vote.
The Republicans are calling for eight Hispanic-majority seats in the Assembly, four in the Senate and one in Congress.
Democrats spread Hispanic voters throughout more districts, creating two Senate districts and three Assembly districts with a majority Hispanic population.
The Legislature is required to redraw the boundaries of political districts every 10 years based on changes in population released through the U.S. Census.
Nevada’s explosive population growth between 2001 and 2010 earned Nevada one more Congressional District, giving Nevada four Congressional Districts.
All districts must be nearly the same size. Map drawers use the U.S. Census total population figures for Nevada and divide those by the number of districts so that each district has an ideal size. The ideal size for a Congressional district is 675,000 people.
//Bureau Chief Sean Whaley contributed to this report.