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Midlands Voices: Legislature should adopt these key redistricting improvements

Midlands Voices: Legislature should adopt these key redistricting improvements

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State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn chairs the Legislature's Redistricting Committee. 

On Sept. 7, the Omaha World-Herald editorially called for a sensible compromise for Nebraska redistricting, stating in regard to the 2nd Congressional District that “the division of Douglas County, merely to serve a political party’s narrow election interest, is blatantly opportunistic and deserves the Legislature’s rejection.” The Legislature’s Redistricting Committee is now considering a congressional district map that cuts the Omaha metro area in half. We object to this clear political gerrymandering of CD2. Moreover, we believe there has been a serious lack of transparency in the redistricting process.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Nebraska has been advocating for the drawing of fair congressional and legislative district maps for more than two years, led by its Fair Maps Action Team. Here are our primary objections to the process so far:

Cutting the Omaha metro area in half. One map being considered by the Redistricting Committee directly contradicts several guidelines set this spring by Legislative Resolution 134, including not splitting municipalities and counties and adopting a map with the smallest population deviation between districts. This proposed map includes additional cuts of other counties to make it work. Clearly this is a political gerrymander.

We call for Douglas County to be kept whole with a deviation of less than 100 individuals between congressional districts. Ideally, the congressional maps should strive to have no more than one Nebraska county split. Finally, there should be no division of racial and/or disadvantaged groups into separate districts.

Fair legislative districts. While a larger deviation is permitted for legislative districts, we call for a population deviation of less than 1,000 individuals in all districts with less than 500 in most legislative districts. Based on the one person-one vote principle, which attempts to keep one person’s vote as equal in power to another’s, there should be at least 27 districts in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties. The Legislature should strive to minimize splitting counties, a guideline the Redistricting Committee endorsed itself in LR 134. Ideally, no more than five county splits should occur in the entire state. Also, the committee should prevent any division of racial and/or disadvantaged groups into separate districts (specifically in Grand Island, areas of north and south Omaha, and Sioux City).

Lack of transparency in the redistricting process. There has been a startling lack of transparency in the entire redistricting process. While there were legitimate challenges to the redistricting process — namely a four-month delay of Census data due to COVID and pressure to meet early candidate filing deadlines — the committee wasted precious time during the interim when it could have accomplished such administrative work as assigning subcommittees; setting a timeline and process; and determining a solid plan of how and when the public would be involved, including ways to make the maps easily accessible.

Worse yet has been a profound lack of public involvement. As far as we can tell, the public was allowed to attend (but not to provide comment at) only one meeting so far — the morning session on Aug. 30. It was unclear that another meeting on Sept. 7, posted with less than a 24-hour notice, was open to the public or only for senators and staff. Additionally, the Redistricting Committee’s chair, State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, said early in the process that she didn’t want to introduce the public into the mix because there “was no benefit.” The people of Nebraska are considered the second house and should be part of the redistricting process.

We agree with The World-Herald that an independent redistricting committee would have provided the fair maps Nebraska deserves, but we must live with the maps the Unicameral adopts for the next decade. It is up to Nebraskans to make sure their voices are heard. We encourage you to contact your state senators at nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_find.php and attend the public hearings in your area this week. Nebraska’s second house must be involved in the redistricting process. It’s up to us to act!

The hearing schedule:

Today, 1:30 p.m. CST, Central Community College, Room 555, Health Science Education Center, 3134 W. Highway 34, Grand Island.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 9 a.m. CST, Nebraska State Capitol Building, Room 1524, 1445 K St., Lincoln.

Thursday, Sept. 16, 10 a.m. CST, Scott Conference Center, 6450 Pine St., Omaha.

MaryLee Moulton and Toni Monette are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska.

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