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Nebraska's 'blue dot' would remain under all current redistricting plans

Nebraska's 'blue dot' would remain under all current redistricting plans

Congressional redistricting maps

Take a look at the key differences in redistricting proposals for metro Omaha congressional districts.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s Electoral College “blue dot” still would have cheered Democrats and bedeviled Republicans if any of the congressional redistricting plans introduced by lawmakers had been in effect last year.

A World-Herald analysis found that both the Republican and Democratic proposals would have given Democrat Joe Biden a win in the 2nd Congressional District and a lone Electoral College vote from the state. The district was dubbed the “blue dot” after Biden’s victory there in 2020 and Democrat Barack Obama’s win there in 2008.

Republican Donald Trump still would have carried the 1st District, while Republican Don Bacon likely would have won another term as the 2nd District representative.

The same outcomes would result from variations introduced by other senators on Friday.

In other words, none of the plans would dramatically change Nebraska’s current political picture. But the Democratic and Republican plans would give their parties more favorable vote margins now — and the prospect for future gains.

“Even though the differences will be small today, for Republicans, adding Republican voters today will mean even more Republicans tomorrow,” said Paul Landow, a retired University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor. “It is like money in the bank — it pays dividends.”

Nebraska lawmakers debated Legislative Bill 1, the Republican plan for redrawing congressional districts, on Friday. The measure stalled when backers failed to get enough votes to end a filibuster led by Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, the Republican chairwoman of the Redistricting Committee, said committee members would talk over the weekend in hopes of reaching agreement on a way forward. She developed LB 1 in consultation with other Republicans.

Alternatives include LB 2, the Democrat-backed redistricting plan developed by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman. The bill remains in committee, but Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, a Democrat, offered the plan Friday as an amendment to LB 1. Other Democrats, Sens. Megan Hunt of Omaha and Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, introduced similar amendments.

The Republican plan sought to divide Douglas County and give Sarpy County more power within the 2nd Congressional District by adding the rest of it to the district. It also would add rural Saunders County to the district.

As proposed, the plan would split Douglas County roughly along Interstate 680 and West Dodge Road. Areas generally north and west of those main thoroughfares would move into the 1st District. Among the areas affected: the northern part of the former town of Elkhorn, Bennington, Waterloo, Valley and the Cunningham Lake and Standing Bear Lake areas.

The Democrats’ congressional plan would leave all of Douglas County in the 2nd District and continue splitting Sarpy County. It would return the older, Democratic-leaning parts of Bellevue to the 2nd District and put the rest of the county back into the 1st District, where it was after the 2001 redistricting.

The plan would divide La Vista and Papillion, generally along 84th Street, and split off sections of Bellevue. Most areas south of Nebraska Highway 370 and west of 84th Street would go into the 1st District. Offutt Air Force Base and Gretna would be in the 1st District.

Sarpy County is currently divided between the 1st and 2nd Districts, but the Bellevue area is in the 1st District and areas to the west, including Papillion, La Vista and Gretna, are in the 2nd District.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, a Republican who is often at odds with his party’s leadership, proposed a third option on Friday. His amendment to LB 1 would keep both Douglas and Sarpy County whole but put them in different congressional districts.

Under his plan, Douglas County would stay in the 2nd District, with Colfax, Dodge and Washington Counties added. Sarpy County would move into a reconfigured 1st District, which would include Lancaster and 10 other southeast Nebraska counties.

The proposal would put both Rep. Don Bacon, who represents the 2nd District, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who represents the 1st District, into the 1st District. Both are Republicans. Congressional representatives are not required to live in the districts that elect them, but living elsewhere can create political difficulties.

To analyze the plans, The World-Herald looked at the 2020 presidential election results in the counties and precincts included in the proposed congressional districts. For the 2nd District congressional race, the number of registered Republicans and Democrats was used where actual votes for Bacon and his Democratic opponent, Kara Eastman, were unavailable.

The analysis showed that, under the Republican, Democratic or McCollister plans, Biden would have won the 2nd District.

But his 6.5% margin of victory would have been smaller — about 5.5% — under the Republican plan. The margin would have been larger — about 9.7% — under the Democratic plan. It would have been only slightly smaller — about 6.3% — under McCollister’s plan.

All three plans would have narrowed Trump’s margin in the 1st District. Instead of a 15.4% difference between Republican and Democratic votes, the gap would have been about 10.6% under the Republican plan, 12% under the Democratic plan and 8.8% under the McCollister plan.

Bacon likely would have won reelection under all three plans as well, assuming that he would have done as well among Republicans in areas newly included in the 2nd District as he did among those within current district boundaries. But the race could have been a squeaker under the Democratic plan.

Landow said those results square with his assessment of the proposals. He said court cases have curbed partisan attempts to dramatically redraw election districts in their favor.

“Most of this is nibbling around the edges,” he said. “Over the years, the courts have come down on blatant gerrymandering, which has slowed party efforts to make major changes that could disenfranchise certain voter groups.”

The legislative resolution adopted to guide redistricting bars district boundaries from being drawn “with the intention of favoring” any political party. It also requires lawmakers to give no consideration to the political affiliation of registered voters in redistricting.

But redistricting remains heavily influenced by partisanship, even in the Nebraska Legislature, where lawmakers are elected and serve without regard to party and where political parties are not part of the legislative structure.

The majority of state senators are Republicans, but Democrats have enough seats to block legislation through a filibuster. Changes in those numbers could affect future redistricting efforts, especially if the GOP can gain a 33rd seat in the 49-member body. It takes 33 votes to end a filibuster.

Landow said he doesn’t expect the Republican dominance in the Legislature to change anytime soon.

“But there is enough randomness in politics that, over a long period of time, anything can happen,” he said.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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