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Judge blocks 2024 ballot initiatives seeking independent redistricting

Updated February 20, 2024 - 11:36 am

A Carson City District Court judge ruled last week that two initiative petitions aiming to change how the state redraws state and federal legislative districts were legally deficient and cannot be placed on the 2024 November ballot.

Judge Robert Estes sided with the plaintiff, Clark County resident Eric Jeng, who filed lawsuits in December 2023 to block the petitions, arguing they violated the Nevada Constitution because they would require government funding. Estes agreed with Jeng — represented by Democrat-aligned law firms Bravo Schrager and Elias Law Group — denying both ballot petitions because they created an unfunded mandate, although his signed order has not yet been made available.

The Nevada Constitution prohibits any initiative that requires the expenditure of money unless it also imposes a tax to cover the costs, and Jeng argued that redistricting commissions in other states required millions of dollars in state funding. There is no reason to believe Nevada would be any different, he argued.

“All Nevadans have the right to propose and support ballot measures through direct democracy, but they also have to observe the laws that govern the process,” attorney Bradley Schrager, representing Jeng, said in a statement. “These two ballot measures failed to do that, and would have spent significant taxpayer money without providing funding to cover their costs.”

Fair Maps Nevada PAC filed two petitions in November that aimed to end gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party or class — by establishing a seven-member independent redistricting commission to redraw the maps, rather than giving the responsibility to the Legislature.

The PAC submitted two different questions, one that would redraw the maps in 2027 and another that would redraw the maps in 2031.

Sondra Cosgrove, president of Fair Maps Nevada, was not surprised the judge denied the petition to redraw the maps in 2027 because of a 2022 Nevada Supreme Court ruling that interpreted the state’s constitution to say constitutional amendments needed to have a funding source. That is why they made the second petition initiative just in case, she said.

“But we were surprised that the judge struck down the one that said we would redraw the map in 2031, because that’s when the Nevada Constitution already says we have to redraw them,” Cosgrove said.

The group will appeal his ruling on petition calling to redraw the maps in 2031.

Cosgrove said she couldn’t find how much was appropriated to the Legislature to conduct its 2021 special session for redistricting, but she saw the special session regarding the A’s stadium was $100,000 a day. She does not see how the proposed volunteer redistricting commission would cost that much.

The proposed independent redistricting commission would be composed of seven members who are registered to vote in Nevada. The senate majority leader, senate minority leader, speaker of the assembly and assembly minority leader would each appoint one person to the commission. The members would have to ensure that the districts are politically competitive, do not give an advantage or disadvantage to a political party and that equal opportunities are provided for minorities to participate in the political process. All of the commission’s meetings would be open to the public and all of their materials will be public records, according to the petition.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the state an F grade in its redistricting report card for its congressional map and found the redistricting gave Democrats a significant advantage.

“Gerrymandering silences voters,” said Cosgrove, who is also involved in the “Yes on 3” campaign that would implement nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting. “I would just like to see voters having more power in this state.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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