They say the process resulted in gerrymandering in 2001, when the boundaries of political districts were last redrawn.
“It was gerrymandered to death,” said Assemblyman Mark Sherwood, R-Henderson.
Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea started a sentence like this: “Clearly, the way it was gerrymandered in 2001…”
More Nevadans voted for Republicans than Democrats in the state’s 42 Assembly races last year.
But Democrats won 26 races to the Republicans’ 16.
Furthermore, Republican candidates earned more total votes than Democratic candidates during the past decade’s Assembly races.
But Republicans won fewer seats.
The past decade has produced a 3-2 Democratic advantage in the Assembly.
After the 2010 election, Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute wrote that the current Assembly districts are unfair.
Among other things, he noted that the largest Republican-controlled district has more voters than the eight smallest Democratic-controlled districts combined.
But Democratic Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is leading the Assembly’s redistricting committee, shrugged off the claims.
“If you don’t have anything else to argue, argue it,” he said. “Districts have to be equal population. You’re not going to have equal votes.”
“Common sense is wrong.”
Legislators drew all 42 Assembly districts with almost equal populations in 2001.
Every 10 years, legislators redraw the political districts based on the most recent Census data. They put equal numbers of people in each district.
It is people, not voters that define “fair.”
Lorne Malkiewich, director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau, employs experts to help legislators edit the boundaries of districts.
He said legislators are mandated to draw districts of equal population. The voter population in each district may differ, sometimes markedly.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has already said he wants the Legislature to draft a plan based on equal district populations or he will veto the plan.
“What is counted and what is important is the number of people, not the number of votes cast,” said professor William Eubank of the UNR political science department.
Two districts might have equal populations, but several factors affect voters numbers in each district. Some people cannot vote: children, teens under the age of 18, prisoners and some immigrants. Other demographic factors also predict whether an eligible voter actually will vote.
So what about that 3-2 split in the Assembly when Republican candidates got more votes?
“It’s one of those things that common sense tells you is wrong,” Eubank said. “But common sense is wrong.”
The Growth Problem
Even so, populations grow or shrink, leaving once-equal districts warped.
Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, is part of the bi-partisan group “Fair Vote.”
He said the current system is not “fair.”
“I don’t believe the last reapportionment was fair to both parties,” he said. “We did not take into account, which I think we’re obligated to do, growth.”
Take Assembly Districts 13 and 22 for example. Republicans dominate both districts. When they were drawn in 2001, they comprised the outlying areas of Las Vegas.
Now there are more than 220,000 people in each. Another Clark County district, Assembly District 11, contains 42,000 people. Based on the 2010 Census, a district should have 65,000 people.
So it’s a Goldilocks problem. After 10 years of population change, no district is “just right.” Most are either too big or too small.
Republican legislators point to these districts as proof of gerrymandering, suggesting that in 2001, Democrats schemed to lock urban growth in a few Republican-leaning districts. This would restrain Republicans from gaining more seats.
Making the districts equal by population could still help Republicans in urban districts because it would spread out Republican voters currently in those two massive districts.
“If we get districts balanced with people, then the votes will follow,” Goicoechea said. “We’re going to get 65,000 people in each Assembly district and call it good.”
If only it were so simple.