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OTHER VOICES: Encouraging signs about Nebraska redistricting emerge

January 26, 2019

Following the 2010 Census, Nebraska’s redistricting process highlighted its need to be reformed.

In 2011, the Legislature approved a resolution “not to favor a political party,” only to see it thrown out the window, along with many proposed maps, during a long battle. When the dust settled, 12 counties changed congressional districts – none more egregious than a flip in Sarpy County that turned the 2nd Congressional District from a dead heat into a 10,000-vote edge for Republicans.

Since that fight, redistricting laws have barely been touched. This Legislature is the last body with the possibility to create the change before the 2020 Census, making the matter all the more urgent.

The ideas proposed by a pair of Omaha senators offer promising proposals – one complex, one simple – to improve the process. Sen. John McCollister has introduced a plan that would resurrect the idea of an independent commission, while Sen. Wendy DeBoer has offered a bill that would require state-issued computer software be used to draw future district maps.

One of the most critical components of McCollister’s plan, LB253, is that members of the commission wouldn’t have access to political party affiliations of voters or previous election results when drawing district lines. His bill also guarantees no party will hold a majority on this new body, which would be chaired by a registered nonpartisan voter.

Again, ensuring the drawing of fair districts is of the utmost importance. No better way to achieve that end exists than by reducing the influences political parties have on the process.

Furthermore, the creation of a commission that presents six maps to the Legislature, as McCollister proposes, would allow state senators to carry out their constitutional requirement to have the final say on redistricting.

In his veto of a 2015 bipartisan redistricting compromise, Gov. Pete Ricketts cited concerns about its constitutionality. The Nebraska Constitution declares “the Legislature shall redistrict,” meaning any suggestion by an independent commission would have to be ratified by the Legislature and governor before taking effect.

Several states have moved to commissions or other nonpartisan methods of creating districts every decade, with the pace accelerating in recent years. Perhaps no better model exists than Iowa, which has a nonpartisan legislative office draw maps using computer programs like those suggested by McCollister and DeBoer and submit them to its Legislature for approval.

Despite the Hawkeye State’s history as a purple state, it’s found a way to make redistricting – long a wellspring of controversy in Nebraska – a nonevent. We’d love to see the same thing happen west of the Missouri River.

When taken together, these bills promote the fair, contiguous, compact congressional and state legislative districts required by the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent – that would help fulfill the 2011 redistricting resolution.

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