An attempt by Republicans to hijack the process for drawing Clark County Council districts has led to bickering and confusion.
The task turned into a hot potato, with a redistricting committee and then the councilors themselves essentially saying, “I don’t want it, you take it … .” In the process they poorly served constituents and demonstrated lingering dysfunction in county government before an agreement was finally reached.
Before delving into the details of the snafu, let’s state the obvious: Alternative B2 should have quickly been proposed as the map for county council districts. It is closest to the option approved by 71 percent of voters in November, before tweaks to the map were dictated by population data from the 2020 U.S. Census. Voters opted to increase the number of council districts from four to five and approved tentative maps for that redistricting.
As Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said in December: “For me, equal population was very important. The other real big deal to me is alignment with the voter-approved map. There is not a judge in this state that’s going to take that voter-approved, five-council map and say that was wrong … once the voters approve it, it’s a done deal.”
Alas, it has not been that simple. A five-person committee — two appointed Republicans and two appointed Democrats plus Kimsey, a Republican — was tasked with drawing the council maps. It initially was unable to reach the required two-thirds approval (four votes in this case); Kimsey and the Democrats supported Alternative B2.
The kerfuffle is the result of an attempt by Republicans to obfuscate the process. The Columbian reported in December that committee members Cemal Richard and Juan Gamboa “want to fix the mistakes they believe the Charter Review Commission made” before preventing a proposal to voters.
Richards said: “The charter review board consists of all Democrats. Also, there were no opposing arguments in the Voters’ Pamphlet for this map. There should have been something put on the ballot asking voters if they even want a fifth district.”
This position involves multiple fallacies. It is not the place of the committee to determine whether the Charter Review Commission made mistakes; the review commission was elected to nonpartisan positions; and voters in 2021 overwhelmingly said they want a fifth district.
Rather than carry out their duty, committee members sent two proposed maps to the county council. The council has sent them back, and the committee finally unanimously approved Alternative B2. Mucking up the works is the fact that redistricting committee member Janet Landesberg filed a lawsuit against the county over the issue.
In voting to return the maps to the committee, Councilor Julie Olson said, “The charter makes it really clear about how many maps should be submitted, and it’s one. One by the redistricting master to the committee, and then the committee shall adopt a map.”
Indeed, the county charter spells out the process and says, “Upon adoption, the plan shall be filed with the council by the redistricting committee.” There is no mention of the possibility of two proposals, nor is there mention of the county council deciding the issue. In addition, asking council members to draw maps that could impact their political futures is an invitation for corruption.
Clark County voters deserve a better process when it comes to redistricting. We hope it will not be up to the courts to smooth out that process.