Posts Tagged ‘voting rights act’

Carson Judge Russell Expected To Rule Quickly On Redistricting Guidelines, Sets Public Hearings For Oct. 10-11

By Sean Whaley | 3:14 pm September 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Racial gerrymandering, fracturing, packing, nesting – a three-hour hearing today in Carson City District Court over how to draw Nevada’s new political boundaries was full of arcane concepts and obscure terminology.

The much anticipated ruling from Judge James Todd Russell on guidelines for drawing those new districts will have major ramifications, however, for the state’s voters and its two major political parties.

The purpose of the hearing was to decide what factors a panel of three citizens must consider when drawing the state’s political lines for four congressional and 63 legislative seats based on the new population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Attorneys for Democrats and Republicans used the terminology to make their cases for how the new political lines should be drawn. Most of the hearing focused on the four congressional seats that must be drawn for the 2012 general election. Nevada earned a 4th seat due to population gains over the past decade.

Time is of the essence in the dispute, with the election season set to get under way early next year.

Attorney Mark Hutchison, representing the Republican Party, argued that the Hispanic community in central Las Vegas should form the basis for one of the four congressional districts in any new redistricting plan.

Attorney Marc Elias, representing Democrats, argued that while communities of interest should be considered, there is no requirement in the federal Voting Rights Act that a predominantly Hispanic district be created.

Special Master Thomas Sheets, from left, GOP attorney Mark Hutchison and Democrat attorneys Mark Braden and Marc Elias confer after the redistricting hearing today. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

After the hearing, Hutchison said: “The court is going to take care to make sure this process is fair and from the beginning that’s all the Republicans have wanted, for the process to be fair. We want to start with a level playing field and let the chips fall where they might. We’re just opposed to any sort of a partisan Democratic slant to this process and I think we got that today.”

Hutchison said he will not appeal Russell’s ruling on how the redistricting process should be carried out by the special masters.

Elias declined to say whether he would appeal Russell’s ruling on the guidelines for the special masters on how to draw the maps.

“I always take these things one step at a time,” he said. “I’m here today and I’m going to wait for the ruling.

“Look, you heard the same thing I did – I think he said he was going to take this under advisement, he obviously listened attentively, he said he was going to do some research and then I expect we will hear from him.”

Russell has appointed the three special masters – Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover, Las Vegas attorney Thomas Sheets and former legislative Research Director Bob Erickson – to draw new political districts.

The issue ended up in the courts when a bipartisan plan could not be hammered out between Democrats and Republicans in the 2011 legislative session.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature passed two redistricting plans, both of which were vetoed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.

While not immediately ruling on the Hispanic congressional district question, Russell did announce some developments in his plan to resolve the dispute.

He announced that the special masters will hold two public hearings, one in Las Vegas on Oct. 10 in the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, and the other Oct. 11 in the Carson City legislative building, to take comment from interested parties on what Nevada’s new districts should look like.

Following those hearings, the special masters will have until Oct. 21 to submit new political maps to the court. Russell said he will then release their report and proposed maps to the public.

Russell said that by Nov. 15 or 16 he will decide whether to accept the maps as drawn by the special masters or send the issue back for any specific revisions he deems necessary.

Regardless of how he rules, the redistricting issue is expected to end up in front of the Nevada Supreme Court, and could be appealed into the federal court system as well.

Elias asked Russell to use Senate Bill 497, the second redistricting measure passed by Democrats but vetoed by Sandoval, as the starting point for the special masters to draw new districts.

Hutchison and other attorneys representing Republicans rejected the idea, saying the maps approved for the 2001 redistricting, along with the many sets of maps proposed this year by lawmakers and citizens, could all be considered by the special masters as a starting point.

Attorney Daniel Stewart, representing Clark County resident Daniel Garza, who opposed SB497, said the congressional districts in the bill inappropriately “fractured” the Las Vegas Hispanic community into three different districts to create three safe Democrat congressional seats.

“This is a perfect example of what I think the masters shouldn’t do,” he said.

But Elias warned that any effort to focus exclusively on creating one Hispanic congressional district could lead to “racial gerrymandering” which would put any plan approved by Russell at risk for a federal court challenge. It is not possible to draw a congressional district in Las Vegas that would have a majority of eligible Hispanic voters, he said.

There is also no evidence of block voting by white residents that has thwarted the efforts of Hispanics to elect candidates of their choice, Elias said, noting the election of Sandoval, who is Hispanic.

One of the experts cited by Republican as evidence of block voting by whites was the election of former state Sen. Bob Coffin to the Las Vegas City Council in Ward 3, defeating Hispanic candidate Adriana Martinez in the process, he said. But the expert failed to note that Coffin is of Hispanic heritage himself, Elias said.

“Nevada is not Mississippi,” he said. “There is no white block voting in Clark County.”

Attorneys also argued their positions on other issues, including whether two state Assembly districts should be drawn to fit exactly within each state Senate seat, a process called “nesting.”

They also argued whether “representational fairness”, or consideration of how many “safe” seats each political party should have, is appropriately before the special masters.

A number of prominent Democrats have either announced or are said to be interested in running for the Southern Nevada congressional seats even though the district lines have yet to be drawn. Already announced candidates include Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, former Rep. Dina Titus who lost to Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in the 2010 election, state Sen. John Lee of North Las Vegas and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen of Las Vegas. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford of Las Vegas is also said to be interested in running for Congress.

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Audio clips:

GOP attorney Mark Hutchison says Republicans want a level playing field:

092111Hutchison :25 got that today.”

Democrat attorney Marc Elias says Judge Russell listened attentively and will issue his ruling after conducting some research:

092111Elias :15 hear from him.”

Republicans Release Redistricting Data, Lay Out Terms For Two-Party Negotiations

By Andrew Doughman | 12:45 pm May 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY — Republicans today announced they have released to the public a set of complicated data about their redistricting proposal.

Democrats had said earlier the release of the data is a requirement before the two parties can begin to work toward a compromise.

The release of the data brightens an otherwise gloomy portrait of partisanship. Republicans and Democrats have so far elected not to negotiate terms in the redistricting battle.

When Democrats learned of the release, they issued a statement saying they will freeze their bill, now before the Senate, so that Republicans and Democrats can compare their plans and look for “common ground.”

“We welcome this opportunity to finally compare these two proposals and look forward to quickly investigating the potential for compromise with our friends on the other side of the aisle,” Democrats said in a statement.

Republicans seemed to have answered the call of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, who asked Republicans to release their data.

“We had constituents calling us, so we thought we’d be open and transparent,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. “The product wasn’t really ours. It was produced by folks who are working on redistricting for us and they wanted to make sure everything was correct [before releasing data].”

The data question had stalled any talk of compromise between Republicans and Democrats, who every 10 years must create revised boundaries for seats for Congress and the state Assembly and Senate according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

Republicans responded to the Democratic call for compromise, saying they are “willing to negotiate.” They did, however, lay out terms for negotiation.

Senate Republicans released a statement this afternoon in which they said they “insist” on pre-conditions for negotiation.

They want a fixed number of majority-minority Hispanics: one in  Congress, four in the state Senate and eight in the state Assembly. That quota is identical to what Republicans originally called for in their proposal.

They also called for eight competitive state Senate and eight competitive state Assembly districts.

“We believe the Voting Rights Act requires fair representation of Hispanics in the U.S. Congress, Nevada State Senate and Nevada Assembly,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. “We also believe that no political party should have a monopoly on power.”

Democrats later rejected the premise for establishing terms of negotiation prior to meeting with Republicans.

“We stand ready, without preconditions, to meet and discuss a way forward,” legislative Democrats said in a statement released this afternoon.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has already vetoed the previous Democratic redistricting plan, saying it treated Nevada’s Hispanic population unfairly and did not comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

The new plan is a second attempt for Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican governor to reach a compromise over appropriate political boundaries. If they cannot agree, the political tug-o-war could be resolved by a judge.

The gridlock continued yesterday as Democrats elected to hear their second redistricting proposal but declined to hear the Republican proposal since the Republican data had yet to be released. Instead, Democrats voted on their own proposal.

Republicans had said they objected to the way Democrats were moving Democratic bills without hearing a Republican proposal.

But Democrats had said they wanted an “open and transparent” process from Republicans.

The data would allow Democrats and members of the public to examine the exact boundaries of districts proposed in the Republican bill.

Although Republicans provided a bill, the 194-page document contains arcane references to Census block tracts, which are nearly impossible for people to visualize.

The Legislature’s information-technology staff has had the complex data, but Republicans had not authorized them to release it until today.