Special master suggests parties in redistricting battle work it out | NevadaAppeal.com

Special master suggests parties in redistricting battle work it out

After a day and a half of hearing arguments about how legislative and congressional district lines should be drawn, special master Tom Sheets asked the warring parties on Tuesday to instead work things out.

Just before the lunch break, Sheets told representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties and the state attorney general’s office to “go sit down somewhere and see what you can agree on” rather than where they disagree in how the maps should be drawn.

“You can make the special masters irrelevant if you choose to,” he said.

Sheets, Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover and Bob Erickson, former chief of the state Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Research Division, were named “special masters” by Carson District Judge Todd Russell and charged with drawing maps. That was in response to the failure of the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval to reach agreement on new legislative and congressional district maps.

Legislative Democrats passed two bills setting new district lines. Sandoval vetoed both, saying they were unfair to Hispanics.

The two sides spent the hearing in Las Vegas on Monday arguing for their interpretation of the federal Voting Rights Act and continued the dispute Tuesday in Carson City.

Sheets’ suggestion didn’t seem to have any impact on the parties to the case. After lunch, Republican lawyer Mark Hutchison continued his arguments that the Democratic interpretation of the law was faulty.

The issues involve whether the Voting Rights Act requires creation of majority-minority districts to protect the rights of minorities – in this case, Hispanics, who make up 25 percent of Nevada’s population. Also at issue is how to apply “representational fairness” in drawing districts so that one party isn’t disproportionately favored.

Another major issue involved in the case is where the panel of special masters should start. Democrats argue the appropriate starting point is the bill passed by the 2011 Legislature. Republicans argue those maps were never valid because of Sandoval’s veto and, therefore, shouldn’t be used. Instead, they say the existing district lines set by the 2001 Legislature should be the starting point.

A Supreme Court hearing on the secretary of state’s petition to force Russell to decide the legal issues is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Republicans say the Voting Rights Act requires protection of minorities’ ability to win office at both the legislative and congressional levels by creating “majority-minority” districts that keep those voters together.

Democrats say that assumes Hispanics all vote the same way, as a bloc. They also argue that Hispanics have proven their ability to get elected in Nevada, pointing specifically at Sandoval as governor of the state.

The court case is being expedited, as is the work of the special masters, in anticipation of lawsuits by both sides challenging whatever they do.