Carson District Judge Todd Russell on Monday took under submission the legal challenge of the petition to create a redistricting commission to draw legislative and other voting district maps.
After a 45-minute hearing, he ordered lawyers for both sides to draft orders for him to consider in putting together a ruling and to file those proposed orders in 10 days.
Supporters of the petition, including the Nevada League of Women Voters, say the idea is to create a non-partisan commission to handle redistricting to end gerrymandering by the majority legislative party and have an independent body draw the maps.
But Kevin Benson, representing Leonard Jackson who is opposing the plan, said since four members of the seven-person commission would be named, one each by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and Assembly, the Democrats and Republicans — the description of effect is invalid. In addition, he said the remaining three members would be appointed by those four members and, while they couldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, they could be minor party members.
As a result, he said the commission would be anything but independent. He said there is no guarantee any of them would represent non-partisan voters who make up 25 percent of Nevada’s electorate and nothing would prevent the commissioners from creating districts that they could they could then seek election to.
In addition, he said the petition contains no funding mechanism to cover costs of redistricting, leaving that in the hands of the Legislature as well. He asked what would happen if lawmakers refused to provide funding for the commission.
He also pointed out that the petition would require a second redistricting in 2023 if voters approve the creation of the commission. That is just two years after lawmakers will redistrict in the 2021 Legislature.
The description of effect, Benson said, doesn’t tell voters any of that.
He said the commission could end up being a group of wealthy Clark County voters who would decide election districts for the entire state including rural areas.
But Adam Hosmer-Henner, representing supporters, said the description of effect atop the petition is valid and fairly represents what the petition would do. He said the legal challenge was just an attempt to prevent the issue from going to the voters to decide.
He said the commission would clearly be bipartisan and with three members who are neither Republican nor Democrat. It would also need a super majority of five to pass new election maps.
Henner said they have provided Benson with five alternative descriptions of effect but that none of them satisfied Benson and his client.
He added that, at this time, there is no way to say how much the process would cost but that the Legislature would have the responsibility to determine that and fund it.
Russell made it clear he agrees with Benson that the words “independent” and “fair and competitive” should be removed from the 200-word description that law says must accurately reflect what the petition does.
He also questioned the requirement that, if voters approve the constitutional change in 2022, the commission must redistrict in 2023 — just two years after the Legislature redistricts for the coming decade in 2021.
To qualify for the ballot, organizers must collect signatures of at least 10 percent of voters who voted in the last election — 997,598 in all — with at least 24,400 in each of Nevada’s four congressional districts.