Team to do redistricting maps
District Judge Todd Russell said Tuesday that he would name a team of four or five “masters” to draw legislative and congressional maps for the coming decade.
But unlike many other states, Russell wants the team to be voter registrars and others with experience in the nuts and bolts of managing elections rather than retired judges and lawyers. He told lawyers for both the Republican and Democratic parties that he is thinking about having the Clark and Washoe county voter registrars representing their areas, and having Carson City Clerk/Recorder Alan Glover represent the rurals, along with some one from the Legislative Counsel Bureau to manage the computer program that actually draws district maps.
The issue ended up before the judge because Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed both Democratic redistricting plans, saying they violated the voting rights act.
Russell said he is trying to “think outside the box.”
“I don’t want anybody with a political agenda, to be honest,” he said. “I’m more interested in people who know the demographics, voter demographics, than the legal issues.”
He said he will resolve the legal issues in the case.
Marc Elias, representing the Democratic Party in the case, said those legal issues – particularly whether the Democratic maps violate federal voting rights laws — have to be decided up front so the masters have ground rules to start their process.
“Maybe if we resolve the voting rights issue, there would at least be a basis for the masters to start,” he said.
But he and Republican Party lawyer Mark Hutchison disagreed on one point: where to begin.
Elias suggested the Democratic maps rejected by Sandoval as a starting point.
“I don’t think the Democrat maps should be the starting point,” Hutchison said. “The maps from 2000 would be a better starting point for me.”
Russell gave both sides and the secretary of state’s office just until July 20 to submit their suggestions for who should be named a master. He emphasized that he hadn’t talked to any of the registrars about his idea — “and these people are probably going to have a heart attack.”
He set the same deadline for lawyers in the case to frame the legal issues and set out how they think the process should proceed.
He also set a deadline of July 29 for any other parties wishing to intervene in the case.
Russell said he envisions a less formal process than a series of legal hearings.
“I’m going to allow a lot of leeway In this case,” he said. He said he wants people to “sit down under guidelines set by the court” and work out a plan that’s fair to the voters.
“This is a new process and we want to do it right,” he said. “We want to do it for the people of Nevada.”
“I’ve got real mixed emotions about that,” said Glover after the hearing. “At least I have some familiarity. I know what’s coming down the pike.”
Glover said having election officials draw the lines has one advantage – the maps would be done properly technically. He pointed out that the maps drawn by the 2001 legislature had to be fixed in 2003 because of technical errors. Some voters weren’t even in a district, and others were in two districts because of errors.
“As long as they’re nonpartisan and do what’s best for the voters, that would be the number one concern,” he said.
“I was totally blindsided,” said Clark registrar Larry Lomax. “I had no idea.”
He said he would have to ask his county manager whether he can be involved.
“If I were to be involved, this is a nonpartisan office and it would be in a nonpartisan manner,” Lomax said. “I’m not a political guy. I don’t even know where the incumbents live.”
Like Glover, he said his purpose if he is involved would be “just to make sure the districts are fair.”
Kevin Benson, representing the secretary of state’s office, said that the process will have to be completed by March 2012 but that there will be some impact as early as August for those groups planning to circulate petitions. Under Nevada law, petition-gatherers must collect a certain percentage of registered voters’ signatures in each of the state’s congressional districts. Reapportionment will require redrawing the congressional maps in Nevada to accommodate a fourth seat in the House.