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Democrat-Led Lawsuit Kills Independent Redistricting Initiatives in Nevada

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Created: 11 May, 2024
2 min read

Photo Credit: Eren Yildiz / Unsplash+

 

The Nevada Supreme Court on Friday upheld the ruling of a lower district court that two identical ballot questions that would create an independent redistricting commission were invalid because sponsors did not add a revenue source to either initiative.

Fair Maps Nevada, which spearheaded both initiatives, asserted that commissioners could act in a volunteer capacity, and that any funds needed could be taken from public funds that no longer were going toward legislative redistricting.

The court, however, said this was not enough. 

“By its terms [the Constitution] requires Fair Maps' initiatives to themselves raise the necessary revenue to create and maintain the Redistricting Commission; it is not enough to simply hope that savings elsewhere will offset the Redistricting Commission's costs,” the court's order states

The lawsuit was filed by Democratic voter Eric Jeng and supported by the Democratic majority in the legislature. The legislature drew electoral districts in 2021 to maximize the Democratic Party's advantage in the state.

Fair Maps Nevada President Sondra Cosgrove believes that anyone who seeks to challenge the legislature's redistricting power could find themselves in a no-win situation, because there are other legal roadblocks establishment forces can erect.

For example, she says that even if Fair Maps re-submitted the initiative with a funding source, like raising marijuana taxes, it could be challenged on Nevada's single-subject rule.

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She wrote about this legal strategy in an op-ed piece published in the Nevada Independent in March.

"Establishment forces particularly like to weaponize this legal strategy to stop ballot questions that threaten their power, using the courts to strip Nevadans of the right to even gather signatures," she wrote.

"These special interests have deep-pockets, such as the Elias Law Firm out of Washington, D.C., which often sues to stop ballot questions in Nevada."

These challenges don't stop all reform efforts. Question 3, which would implement a Final Five voting system with nonpartisan primaries and ranked ballots, was challenged on the single-subject rule.

The single-subject rule requires all aspects of a proposed ballot initiative to share a functional connection -- essentially meaning that ultimately only one question is being put before voters. The effort against Question 3 failed because the courts ruled that the single subject was election reform. 

Cosgrove asserts that it is easier to challenge independent redistricting or any effort that would require the creation of a state entity because adding a revenue source from existing taxes would create two questions:

One on the subject of the initiative and one on the appropriateness of the funding source. Thus, a court could find it in violation of the single-subject rule because the initiative 

"This is one reason why constitutional ballot questions have not included a method of taxation up to now," she writes. 

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It is unlikely that an independent redistricting initiative will be refiled in the current election cycle. However, in an interview with the Nevada Independent, Cosgrove said she is going to focus her support on Question 3 for nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting.

“I'm going to double down on [Question 3],” she said. “Because we need to have other mechanisms to get around gerrymandered maps.”

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