In 2008, for the first time in 44 years, red-state Nebraska awarded one of its Electoral College votes to the Democratic presidential candidate, and aghast Republican Party leaders decided they wouldn’t let it happen again. They redrew the state’s political lines so the congressional district that favored Barack Obama and included the state’s largest black community would take in more Republican voters. Then they pushed the change through the Legislature despite Democrats’ complaints. The doctoring worked: When Obama ran for re-election, the new district went to Republican Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin. In most states, that would be the end of the story — a naked but predictable case of gerrymandering for political advantage. But in Nebraska, a state with a different slant on partisanship, the episode didn’t sit well.
This year, a number of Republicans, including the Legislature’s speaker, are joining with the outnumbered Democrats to back an idea that’s almost unthinkable in the current hyperpolarized climate: turning over political map drawing to a new independent commission and lessening the role of politics in the process.
Only six states have similar nonpartisan panels for congressional redistricting, and those were often installed by voters, not politicians.
“There was a certain segment of the public that did not have faith in the maps we adopted,” said state Sen. John Murante, a Republican who helped draw the new GOP-friendly map as a legislative staffer before he was elected, and now is backing the new system.