CARSON CITY – Ask people living near the strip in Las Vegas who their state senator is and, if they know, they might say Sen. Mark Manendo or Sen. David Parks.
They would both be right on both counts. Parks and Manendo represent one of the state’s two dual districts, which each have two senators.
They are a relic from a past era, and Parks says there is a “strong likelihood” they will soon be a thing of the past.
Parks is the chairman of the Senate committee that publicly works on drawing the boundaries.
“From a personal perspective, I’d sooner have a single Senate district because I would have fewer constituents to campaign to,” he said.
The Nevada Legislature will redraw political boundaries this year using data from the 2010 U.S. Census.
“It makes sense that the double districts go away,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, a Republican who represents Clark County District Five with Sen. Shirley Breeden, a Democrat. “What’s the rationale? If double districts are great, why aren’t double districts everywhere? It’s an anomaly. … I haven’t heard a single person argue for the merits of a double district.”
About 475,000 Nevadans currently live in the dual districts that elect two senators each. Each dual-district senator technically represents half the district. The districts are double the size of districts that elect a single senator.
In the rest of Nevada, one district elects one senator.
Double districts are double the size to keep in line with national laws. National court rulings have established a “one person, one vote” rule.
Senate districts that are double the size of other districts must then have two senators. Or, the other way around, if a district has two senators, it must be double the size of districts that have one senator.
Campaigning in a double district is more difficult than in single districts. Roberson said that candidates have to solicit votes from double the voters, pay double the mailing costs and spend double the money in order to reach double the number of people.
In this century, the districts seem odd.
“Within the context of Nevada, it may be an anomaly,” said Guy Rocha, Nevada’s former state historian. “We don’t need it today.”
But it has not always been so.
The double districts came about as the United States Supreme Court made a ruling in the 1960s that changed the old way Nevada elected its senators.
Before, each of Nevada’s 17 counties elected one senator.
But as Clark County’s population grew, legislators in the north seemed to wield disproportionate influence since they represented fewer people than the Clark County legislators.
Nevada overhauled the way it elected its Senators and Assembly members in 1965 to use population, not county, as the base.
In 1971, Nevada had many districts where one district elected one assembly member or senator based on population. But Nevada also had one seven-member and one two-member district in Clark County and one four-member Washoe County district.
After 1971, these abnormal districts began to disappear.
By 1991, Clark County had five double districts. That number shrank to the current two double-districts in 2001.
Now it seems that they will all go away.
“It would end what I call a latter-day tradition,” Rocha said. “Perhaps, it’s served its purpose and served its time.”