A partisan and ethnically charged fight over drawing Nevada's legislative and congressional districts is flaring up once again after what appeared might be a breakthrough.
Democrats on Friday announced they wanted to negotiate redistricting plans after Republicans unveiled the census data on which their maps are based. But when Republicans set conditions for the talks that included distributing minorities along the lines of the GOP plan, Democrats fired back with a scathing rejection.
"Rather than come to the table to have an open discussion about where we can find common ground, the Republican caucus immediately demanded a racially gerrymandered and patently unconstitutional redistricting plan," Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said in a joint statement that called the GOP logic "absurd" and condemned Republican "posturing."
Republicans called for one congressional district that contains a majority of Hispanics, along with four state Senate and eight state Assembly districts with Hispanic majorities. While Republicans say the plan strengthens Hispanic communities' ability to elect candidates of their choice, Democrats say the arrangement takes Hispanic influence out of other voting districts and requires drawing district boundaries that disregard municipal ones.
Democratic leaders accused the opposing party of "trying to engineer election results the Republican Party cannot get in a map that does not pack minority voters."
Another Republican term for negotiation is that the maps not give one party a monopoly of power; the GOP says the Democrats' plans guarantee Democratic dominance.
The new impasse came hours after another one cleared up. A Senate committee on Thursday voted to advance the Democrats' second version of redistricting plans toward a Senate vote, and decided not to hear the Republicans' plan because the GOP was not releasing the census data in a readable format.
The census data in question reveals street names and other geographical information used to generate the map drawing. It is already available in the 194 pages of the Republicans' written redistricting bill, but in Census Bureau code indecipherable to the untrained eye. Democrats wanted the data translated into a format that could be manipulated on a public "workstation" computer in the legislative building in Carson City.
Republicans had said they only received one call - from a political group out of state - requesting the information. Nonpartisan legislative lawyers said the Republicans were not legally obligated to put the data on the public workstation.
The data became a bargaining chip, with Republicans saying they did not want to release it if Democrats fast-tracked their own plans through. The first set of Democratic maps was approved after some public hearings, then a rapid succession of committee meetings and floor sessions.
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the Democrats' first plan last Saturday, calling it partisan gerrymandering and suggesting it would violate the Voter Rights Act by the way it distributed minorities. Democrats said the governor's veto itself was partisan.
Democrats said Friday they would only discuss the plans with Republicans if they came to the bargaining table without preconditions.
Redistricting happens every 10 years to account for shifts in population and is based on updated census data. Nevada is getting a new, fourth seat in the House of Representatives after rapid growth in the past decade.
Lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal court, arguing lawmakers are incapable of fairly redrawing voting boundaries.