Advocates again push ballot measure to take redistricting out of Legislature’s hands
Backers of an initiative to create an independent redistricting commission for Nevada are again launching an effort to get a question on the ballot.
Two initiatives were filed on Tuesday with the secretary of state’s office on behalf of Fair Maps Nevada, a group led by College of Southern Nevada professor Sondra Cosgrove, who also spearheaded the 2020 and 2022 efforts to change Nevada’s redistricting process.
The petitions contain identical language and seek to remove state lawmakers’ role in the redistricting process by establishing an independent, seven-member commission to draw congressional and legislative district maps. The only difference between the two petitions is that one would require new maps to be redrawn in 2027 (the first possible year the proposed law would be in effect assuming the measure were to pass on the 2024 and 2026 ballots) and the other in 2031, which would align with the state’s usual 10-year redistricting cycle.
According to Ballotpedia, 10 states use commissions for congressional redistricting, and 15 use them for legislative redistricting, with the vast majority of commissions not populated by those in elected office. Advocates say that the model helps suppress partisan gerrymandering and ensures elections are fairer and more competitive.
As constitutional amendments, voters will need to vote in favor of the initiatives in the 2024 and 2026 elections before the amendments could become part of the state constitution.
“I am being tenacious about this, and I'm going to put it in front of the voters as many times as I possibly can,” Cosgrove said in an interview with The Nevada Independent Thursday night.
Cosgrove said the 2021 redistricting process, when Democrats held control of the Legislature and the governor’s office, resulted in maps that heavily favored the Democratic Party. She cited the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s recently released “F” grade for partisan fairness on the state’s new congressional maps as evidence that the system needs to change, especially given the fact that registered nonpartisans are quickly growing in number.
“No one in this state can look me in the eye and tell me that the maps are not gerrymandered,” said Cosgrove, who is also the executive director of the civic engagement nonprofit Vote Nevada.
In 2020 and 2022, Fair Maps Nevada supported similar, nearly identical initiatives that were unsuccessful.
To get an initiative or referendum on the ballot, a petitioner must obtain signatures from at least 10 percent of the voters in the previous general election — meaning that at least 102,586 signatures are needed to qualify a measure for the 2024 ballot, with at least 25,647 signatures coming from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
The petitioners must collect and submit signatures by July 8, 2024, to qualify for next year’s election. If a petition receives enough signatures and a simple majority of Nevadans vote in favor of the corresponding ballot question, it would pass and be placed on the ballot again in 2026, where another affirmative vote would add the language to the state constitution.
The 2020 petition was challenged in court almost immediately after it was filed by a Las Vegas pastor with ties to state Democrats. Despite winning a deadline extension in federal court, difficulties with collecting signatures during a pandemic meant the group fell well short of the signatures needed to qualify for the initiative.
Cosgrove said she’s not worried about lawsuits derailing the measure because the initiative's language has survived past legal challenges. She said the 2022 effort failed because it was challenging to reach nonpartisan voters, and she and other supporters are working on addressing that gap.
The petitions stipulate that four of the redistricting commission members would be appointed by legislative leadership and the remaining three chosen by the four appointees. Those three could not have an affiliation with either the Republican Party or Democratic Party, and at least one nonpartisan would need to support the new district maps for them to move forward.
Individuals who would not be allowed on the commission include lobbyists, candidates or elected officials.
In the past, the initiative received modest financial support from trade groups for real estate agents and franchised auto dealers. She said fundraising for the 2024 measure has not yet begun.
Cosgrove estimated it costs about $2 million to successfully qualify a ballot initiative, which she said is “prohibitively expensive” and unfair.
But “I'm just gonna keep doing it,” Cosgrove said. “I'm a historian. I know that tenacity sometimes is what you need.”