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Legislators await census data to redraw districts

CARSON CITY — A U.S. Census Bureau employee told Nevada legislators Monday that they will be given the block-by-block information they need to redraw election districts boundaries by mid-February.

Census official Gerald O’Donnell also told the Legislature’s Interim Committee on Requirements for Reapportionment and Redistricting that results of the 2010 Census could be given to President Barack Obama before Christmas. By law, the census must be given to the president by Dec. 31.

Besides giving the president national and state population figures, the Census Bureau also will inform Obama whether states gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives, O’Donnell said. The information also will be released publicly.

Nevada "possibly" will pick up one seat in the House, even though it now appears to be losing population, he said.

The Census Bureau previously estimated that Nevada had 2,643,085 residents in July 2009, ranking 34th in population among the 50 states.

Utah, which has about 140,000 more people than Nevada, is in a better position to pick up a seat. Each state now has three members in the House.

State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle has estimated that Nevada lost nearly 100,000 people in the past two years. His figures, however, are not used in calculating seats in Congress. The House membership is based entirely on the 2010 Census.

Committee members also were told Monday that the necessary software they need to redistrict has been purchased.

The Census Bureau will give the Legislature by mid-February detailed population information, including the racial, ethnic and voting age population for every block and community in the state. The Legislature convenes on Feb. 7.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said with the detailed information, legislators could do "phenomenal things" as they redraw the boundaries of legislative, congressional and other districts.

Once the census data is added, software in legislative computers will allow users to experiment moving blocks in and out of current districts and show the ethnic and racial breakdown of possible new districts, added Segerblom, the chairman of the committee.

Each year following the release of the census, legislators must redraw these boundaries to ensure the districts are "nearly equal as practical" in population. Rules adopted by the committee require that populations of any district do not deviate more than 10 percent from others.

Because Southern Nevada has grown more rapidly in population since the last census in 2001, it is expected to pick up one state Senate and two Assembly seats. These seats would be taken from Washoe County and rural Nevada. Many sparsely populated rural Nevada counties, however, already have no legislators that they don’t share with other counties.

To keep the rural counties from losing seats, legislators could decide in 2011 to add legislative seats. There are now 63 state legislators, but the Legislature could under the state Constitution increase that number to as high as 75.

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