Judge OKs maps with minor changes
Carson District Judge Todd Russell on Thursday approved the congressional and legislative district maps drawn by his special masters with just a few tweaks to fix problems pointed out by the Democratic and Republican parties.
All the changes were in Clark County legislative districts, as Russell rejected rural Republican objections to the state Senate district that stretches from Clark County up through Eureka, White Pine and Elko counties.
Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and former Elko Assemblyman John Carpenter said that could result in rural Nevada being represented by someone from Las Vegas. Goicoechea is planning to run for that office.
Russell said the Democratic plan had 17.5 percent Clark County voters in that district and the GOP plan 17.2 percent. The special masters’ plan, he said, contains fewer Clark County voters – 16.8 percent – so he wasn’t convinced by their arguments.
“It’s going to stand as is,” Russell said.
He did move the line between Assembly districts 34 and 37 in Las Vegas so that incumbent Democrats William Horne and Marcus Conklin aren’t in the same district – a conflict caused because the masters weren’t aware Horne had moved.
Democratic lawyer Marc Elias said that party has a long list of changes it would have liked “to make these maps better from a partisan standpoint.” But he said changing them for purely political purposes would damage public confidence in the process and confidence in the work the masters did.
“This is not a Democrat plan and not a Republican plan, but the court’s plan,” he said.
He also said that, unless the rulings those masters made are “clearly erroneous,” legally they must stand.
He said, however, that the judge could make technical corrections such as fixing the error that has two Assembly incumbents running against each other.
GOP lawyer Mark Hutchison, however, said that the idea isn’t to just rubber-stamp those maps and that there are errors and unfairness in the proposed state Senate maps.
Hutchison argued that Senate District 8, held by Republican Barbara Cegavske, was neither compact nor regular in shape, violating the judge’s mandate. He also argued that Senate District 6, held by Democrat Allison Copening, and Senate District 9, held by Republican Elizabeth Halseth, had been altered to give Democrats a much stronger voter registration advantage.
“These were once competitive seats that are now strongly Democratic,” he said.
Halseth’s seat currently has a 2.9 percent Democrat registration advantage, and Copening’s just 1.2 percent Democrat. The maps proposed by the masters would have given Democrats an 8.9 percent margin in both of those districts. Those same maps, however, gave Cegavske a 1 percent Republican advantage instead of the 1 percent registration disadvantage she currently has.
Hutchison urged Russell to make all three seats competitive.
Russell agreed to make changes to those boundaries of three Clark County Senate districts protested by GOP lawyers, but not in exactly the way the GOP wanted. The changes again give Democrats a 1.3 percent advantage in Cegavske’s district, but reduce the Democratic advantage in Copening’s district to 6.95 percent and in Halseth’s to 7.26 percent.
The GOP focused on Copening because they believe she is vulnerable in the 2012 elections and, in fact, may not even run again.
After the hearing, both parties indicated they doubt there is sufficient grounds to support the federal court lawsuit over redistricting because the masters avoided violation of the Voter Rights Act by concluding the Hispanic population in Clark County isn’t dense enough to allow a majority/minority district and that the white majority doesn’t vote as a block to deny minority candidates office.
“That’s simply not present in Nevada,” said Elias.
Asked about continuing the federal court case, Hutchison said, “I don’t have any plans to do so.”
Both Elias and Hutchison said they would have to examine the changes in detail before deciding whether to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.