Nevada redistricting reform backers seek more petition time

LAS VEGAS — A Nevada political group wants a federal judge to order state officials to accept electronic signatures and allow more time to qualify a ballot measure to appoint a commission to redraw statewide voting districts.

Rules imposed by the governor to prevent face-to-face contact between people during the coronavirus pandemic "make it extremely difficult to collect signatures to qualify the initiative ... in a traditional in-person manner," Fair Maps Nevada PAC said in a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno.

The group, backed by the League of Women Voters of Nevada, called it "implausible" that any initiative will meet a June 16 deadline to submit signatures from nearly 100,000 registered voters to qualify for the November ballot. A court hearing was not immediately scheduled.

League President Sondra Cosgrove said Friday she's not sure how many signatures were collected before Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in March, ordered casinos and many businesses closed, and imposed a stay-at-home order for most state residents.

Representatives of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and state Attorney General Aaron Ford declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Cegavske on April 20 cited state law and rejected a request from initiative proponents' attorneys to postpone the signature deadline and take names gathered on electronic devices. "Whether during a pandemic, natural disaster or otherwise, we are unable to grant your request," she said.

The measure would be a constitutional amendment to take redistricting away from the Legislature and turn it over to a seven-member commission with members named by party leaders in the Legislature and some who are neither Republican nor Democrat.

It would have to pass twice — this year and again in 2022 — to become law. State legislative and U.S. congressional voting districts could then be redrawn in 2023.

The League of Women Voters has been working nationally to rewrite state redistricting rules after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in June 2019 that states should decide disputes about voting maps and gerrymandering, the practice of politicians manipulating voting maps to make it easier for their party's candidates to win elections.

A North Las Vegas church pastor who opposes the initiative lost a bid in state court to block petition-gathering. But he has appealed to the state Supreme Court his argument that the petition remains flawed and the proposed law should be rewritten.

Attorney Kevin Benson and the Rev. Leonard Jackson say that the commission wouldn't work because there is no funding for it and members would still be appointed through the partisan Legislature.


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