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Will Nevada voters get a chance to change how redistricting works?

Updated April 12, 2024 - 7:27 pm

The Supreme Court of Nevada is considering an appeal that, if approved, could give Nevada voters a chance to change the state’s redistricting process.

A panel of Supreme Court judges heard arguments Thursday on whether it should uphold a lower court’s ruling to block initiative petitions that would create an independent redistricting commission.

Fair Maps Nevada PAC had filed two ballot initiatives with the secretary of state’s office to amend the Nevada Constitution to take the responsibility from the Legislature to redraw Nevada’s district boundaries every 10 years and create an independent redistricting commission in its place.

The initiative petitions aimed to end gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party or class — by establishing a seven-member board that would draw the maps. One of the petitions would redraw the maps in 2027 and another would redraw the maps in 2031, which is the time redistricting is already scheduled to take place.

Plaintiff Eric Jeng challenged the petitions in December 2023. Represented by law firms known for representing Nevada Democrats — who currently hold the majority in the Legislature — Jeng argued that the petitions were invalid because they created unfunded mandates.

In February, a Carson City District Court judge agreed and ruled the petitions couldn’t be placed on the 2024 November ballot.

Fair Maps Nevada PAC filed an appeal, which was heard in court Thursday.

Attorney Adam Hosmer-Henner, representing Fair Maps Nevada, argued that the initiative does not impose an extra cost to the Nevada Legislature, since funds from the general fund are already allocated for redistricting during a special session.

He said the independent redistricting commission could be made up of volunteers, which would save the state money.

“We posit that redistricting in this manner is cheaper for the state government than going through the legislative branch,” Hosmer-Henner said.

Attorney David Fox, representing Eric Jeng, said that the statute governing the Legislature’s general fund restricts how the money can be used, and that the statute wouldn’t currently allow the Legislature to pay for an independent redistricting commission.

If the independent redistricting commission were to be implemented, the Legislature will likely cut funds from somewhere else or find revenue elsewhere, Fox said.

“The point is, it’s going to have to raise the money somewhere, whether that’s from its own budget, whether it’s from other expenses, whether it’s a higher raise in taxes,” Fox said.

He added that even if the funds already appropriated for the Legislature to conduct redistricting were to be transferred over to the commission, that would still qualify as a government expenditure.

Hosmer-Henner denied that claim, arguing there’s no requirement for the Legislature to reserve a fixed amount for an appropriation.

Hosmer-Henner asked the court what it wants Nevada’s Constitution to look like, whether it should be full of administrative details and taxing provisions, or whether it should contain a basic set of laws and principles that set forth the state government’s framework.

“If it is the latter, what would be more appropriate for the Constitution than the very method, very rules by which we choose the electoral districts to elect and choose our political representatives?” he asked.

The panel of Supreme Court judges — headed by Chief Justice Elissa Cadish — concluded the hearing without making a decision.

Time is of the essence, however. Fair Maps Nevada must collect 25,591 valid signatures from each of Nevada’s four congressional districts by June 26 in order to appear on the November ballot, that is if the Supreme Court judges overrule the lower court judge’s ruling and allow the initiatives to appear on the ballot.

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

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