The writer, of Omaha, is a practicing attorney and a board member of Common Cause Nebraska.
Our Nebraska Legislature is dropping the ball on legislation that is necessary for redistricting.
Even though four bills were proposed this session, no redistricting legislation made it out of committee. This, even though we have known for some time that such legislation has to be passed before district lines are drawn after the 2020 Census.
Voters need to be confident that legislators believe that everyone they represent is important and that all votes have equal value. In prior gerrymandering cases, the federal courts have said that voting maps should be proportionate and not based in any way on race. Electoral maps should also be drawn to protect and not dilute the vote of the underrepresented. A favored catchphrase of the political wonks is: Voters should pick their representatives. Representatives should not pick their voters.
In the recent U.S. Supreme Court case Gill v. Whitford, the court said that a Wisconsin redistricting plan was invalid because it was biased on a partisan basis, violating the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of association and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the state with instructions to establish a fair way to redraw the district lines. A decision is currently pending on two other cases, one in Maryland and one in North Carolina, regarding district lines that appear to be drawn with a partisan bias. One state’s map favors the Democrats and the other, the Republicans. It is anticipated that a ruling will come down on these cases this summer.
According to David Daley, author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” a majority of our country, from all parties, oppose gerrymandered districts.
Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah have all passed, by comfortable margins, ballot initiatives that moved the power to draw districts from politicians to independent commissions or nonpartisan entities. As many as five other states had some form of this method of establishing maps in use prior to these votes.
Nebraska’s Legislature apparently has decided that this matter needs more study. Yet, in the past, the state went through the same process, and it led to maps being presented to the public at the eleventh hour. In Pennsylvania, Daley points out, specially designed software was used to draw tens of thousands of maps in a neutral, nonbiased manner, and none came close to matching the gerrymandered maps that had been put in place.
The courts and scholars have already given us a good outline to work with; lines should be drawn in a way that is proportionate, independent and transparent and that ensures everyone is fully represented. A failure to accomplish this diminishes the voting public’s faith in our electoral system and leads to a defeatist attitude among the public that denigrates our system of choosing representatives.
We already have available remedies using independent nonpartisan commissions or the use of neutral algorithms to draw fair maps with the 2020 Census data.
The Legislature’s foot-dragging allows for a pattern of a lack of transparency. The information is there. It’s time to get to work.
To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, waste no more time arguing what a good map should be. Draw one.