It didn’t take long for partisan politics to overshadow the prayers, songs and stilted harmony of the Legislature’s opening day. Democrats contend that in the first hours of the session, Republicans diverted the Legislature’s focus from education reform by introducing a bare-knuckle, partisan topic: redrawing political districts. Republicans, in majority control of the Legislature, acknowledge they’re exploring redistricting but say they are working to fix what’s proven to be a complicated, divisive process in the state. Redistricting is the process of reconfiguring district boundaries to adjust for population shifts and maintain an equal number of representatives for residents in different geographic areas. Depending on how the boundaries are drawn, the process can be a major factor in winning elections, as parties have an opportunity to loop in areas with strong voter turnout and high concentrations of voters who traditionally support them. At the same time, one party can create a disadvantage for the other by leaving it with areas where voter turnout is traditionally weak. “There’s nothing more partisan and political bloodsport than redistricting,” said Tim Storey, an elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The U.S. Constitution mandates states to redistrict every 10 years. Nevada and the majority of states redrew their lines in 2011 — a year after the last census — and are expected to do the same in 2021. The effort to thrust redistricting back in the spotlight has Democrats raising concerns about transparency and wondering why Republicans would prematurely address the matter.
On Monday, Republicans inserted the redistricting provisions into the joint legislative standing rules — wide-ranging guidelines for leadership, parliamentary practices and conflict-of-interest disclosure. Although the GOP submitted a bill that would create a legislative committee designed to debate redistricting, absent from the rules are public participation provisions that accompanied the redistricting framework in past sessions.