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Nebraska Lawmakers Agree to Rules for Fall Redistricting

June 4, 2021 by TWN Staff
Storm clouds over the Nebraska State Capitol. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lawmakers in Nebraska have agreed to the framework they’ll follow for redrawing political districts lines in the fall.

Despite Nebraska’s unique one-house legislature being officially nonpartisan, the 30-16 vote in favor of the redistricting rules came down largely along party lines, with those self-identifying as Republicans supporting them and Democrats voicing their opposition.

During the debate before the vote, most of the Democrats argued the rules were just flexible enough to allow for imaginative line-drawing for political gain.

In the end, the resolution that was adopted stated: “District boundaries shall not be established with the intention of favoring a political party or any other group or person.

“District boundaries which would result in the unlawful dilution of the voting strength of any minority population shall not be established,” it continued.

Among the questions debated was whether lawmakers would ostensibly start from scratch when they get the latest population data from the U.S. Census, or whether they’ll try to preserve existing districts.

Republicans on the state legislature’s redistricting committee approved a provision allowing for the preservation of existing districts, but did not mandate it.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, lawmakers debated how much deviation would be allowed in redrawing the legislative districts.

Republicans beat back a challenge to lower the deviation, arguing that the lower the number, the less flexibility they’d have in drafting a map.

Democrats, meanwhile, argued that the larger the deviation, the more likely that the map could be gerrymandered.

Ultimately, the two sides grudgingly agreed to a 10% deviation.

The actual start of redistricting isn’t expected to begin until the middle of August, when the U.S. Census Bureau will start releasing the pandemic-related results of the 2020 Census.

The nine-member redistricting committee will take a first stab at creating the new political boundaries, and once its work is done, it will hand the matter over to the legislature, which will be meeting in special session to complete the map-making process.

When it plays out, the process and the maps it produces will inevitably be controversial.

In 2010, Republicans drew criticism when they moved the Bellevue, Neb., area, which was home to a substantial number of Democrats, out of the 2nd Congressional District — which encompasses metropolitan Omaha — and placed them in the 1st Congressional District, which was dominated by rural Republicans.

Another controversy arose after a new legislative district was created, apparently solely to allow a Republican legislative aide who worked on the redistricting to run for office in it. That aide, John Murante, did actually run for and win the newly created seat. Today Murante is the state treasurer.

This year, all eyes will once again focus on the 2nd Congressional district, the only congressional district in the state won by President Joe Biden last year. Expectations are that another sliver of the district will be taken away and moved into the state’s hugely rural 3rd Congressional District.

Given the controversies associated with past redistrictings, there have been attempts to put the process in the hands of an independent redistricting commission.

In 2016, a bill creating such a body actually passed in the legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Last year, a signature drive to put a ballot issue before voters on whether to establish such a commission was called off amid the pandemic.

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