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Court ruling resolves conflict over redistricting

CARSON CITY — The long battle over redistricting ended Friday when lawyers for the Republican and Democratic parties accepted the election district maps prepared by a District Court-appointed panel of special masters.

Once the political party lawyers gave their consent, the Supreme Court canceled its planned Nov. 14 hearing on whether it should intercede in redistricting matters. Justices said if people object to the new election districts, they can file appeals with the Supreme Court.

The issue that began last spring in an ugly partisan battle in the Legislature ended with bipartisan agreement.

With election districts essentially final, candidates have been busy all week announcing their intentions of running for offices up for election in 2012. Filing starts in March, and Secretary of State Ross Miller earlier asked the Supreme Court to intercede because he feared election district maps would not be completed in time.

But District Judge James T. Russell on Oct. 27 approved the maps drawn by his special masters: Thomas Sheets, Alan Glover and Bob Erickson. The judge acted after making minor boundary changes requested by party lawyers.

“It’s a moot issue now,” said Mark Hutchison, the Las Vegas lawyer for the Republican Party. “The Supreme Court doesn’t need to review this.”

No appeals over the election district maps have been filed. But Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, and others earlier objected to the huge districts they might have to represent. Goicoechea is running for the new Senate District 19, which extends more than 500 miles, from Jackpot near the Oregon border down to Primm on the California state line.

“It’s a good thing this has been resolved,” said Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden. “The maps are fairer than those that came out of the legislative process. We don’t get a lot of Republican districts, but they give us a chance. “

Nevada Democrats have an edge of 60,000 registered voters over Republicans.

Settelmeyer said because of the sparse population in rural Nevada, some districts must stretch across the state. A U.S. Supreme Court decision mandates that election district populations must be as equal as possible.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he could not comment on the court’s action now. He was chairman of the legislative committee that passed out the Democratic redistricting plans.

But sources in the Democratic Party said they were pleased with how the new maps affected Clark County districts, unhappy with some Washoe County districts, but satisfied overall.

Under the state constitution, it is the duty of the Legislature following every federal census to redraw congressional, legislative and other election districts.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval twice vetoed Democrat-passed redistricting plans, saying they did not create enough Hispanic majority districts.

Republicans sought one Hispanic majority congressional district and 12 Hispanic majority legislative districts. Democrats contended that majority Hispanic districts were not needed to elect Hispanics, who generally vote for Democratic candidates, and that the Republican motive was to dilute the voting strength of Hispanics, now 26 percent of the state population.

When the legislative session ended June 7, redistricting fell to the courts.

Rather than draw the districts himself, Russell gave the task to special masters Sheets, a Las Vegas lawyer; Glover, the Carson City clerk-treasurer; and Erickson, retired Legislative Counsel Bureau research director.

The special masters concluded that the majority Hispanic districts were not necessary under the federal Voting Rights Act because white Nevada voters do not have a history of bias against Hispanic candidates.

Under their maps, Congressional District 1 in Las Vegas has a 43 percent Hispanic population. Only three legislative districts are majority Hispanic, but many have 30 percent and higher Hispanic populations.

In their Friday announcement, Supreme Court Chief Nancy Saitta and the six other justices noted “all parties” had agreed to the authority of Russell and his special masters. Because their work is finished and maps are in place, the Supreme Court said there is “no longer any urgency” for its intervention.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

 

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