Politicians undermine democracy

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Everyone is out for themselves during the redistricting process.

Incumbents want to make their own legislative district as safe as possible, thus ensuring their re-election. Legislators who want to move to a different house demand a certain street or neighborhood be added to their district. Legislative leaders looking to punish wayward caucus members might even arrange to put two of their own into the same district, hoping that the weaker legislator is defeated in a primary.

When a state adds a new congressional district as Nevada has during the last two reapportionments, the back room dealing gets even worse as the national parties exert their influence and elected officials interested in the new seat are exceedingly focused on drawing it to their advantage.

The truth is state legislators are the worst possible group of people to be charged with the decennial responsibility of adjusting U.S. House and state legislative districts after the census is completed. Take it from someone who has been through it twice: They meddle. They scheme. They fight.

While it’s essential to even out the populations between districts in accordance with the principle of one person, one vote, state legislators simply cannot set aside their instincts for self-preservation and political gamesmanship and get the job done fairly. Instead, they engage in shameless, behind-the-scenes manipulation of data to suit their partisan interests.

During the last redistricting in the 2011 session, Nevada legislators became so polarized over how a new U.S. House seat would be drawn, they were unable to reach a final deal and for the first time in the state’s history, the District Court appointed a group of three people to resolve the issue.

It’s the voters who lose the most during the redistricting process, conducted behind closed doors after the required public hearings of mind-numbing data, as they effectively forfeit their ability to choose their representative when a gerrymandered district is drawn to overwhelmingly favor a particular party. The super-Republican or super-Democratic districts create situations where the real battle for a seat is in the primary, since the majority party nominee is virtually guaranteed to win the general election.

In Nevada, redistricting has produced fringe candidates like Sharron Angle and Don Gustavson. It’s why Democrats have never been able to win in U.S. House District 2, and never will, unless a larger portion of rural voters are placed into a Las Vegas U.S. House District. And it’s why voters, disgusted with the shenanigans and self-dealing, often give up and don’t vote.

In some states, namely Arizona and California, there’s been a concerted effort to take this most political job away from the politicians and place it in the hands of an independent appointed commission. Granted, any appointee to a commission arrives with baggage and bias, but there’s no comparison with the determination of a sitting state legislator whose political future depends on redistricting lines.

Last month, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona voters’ initiative to create such a commission after state legislators sued to regain their redistricting power. In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left no doubt about the majority reasoning, saying, “The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering. In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ’the core principle of republican government,’ namely ’that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’”

There are now six states that have taken redistricting completely out of the hands of state legislators, a trend that hopefully is accelerated by the Supreme Court decision. Independent commissions have been endorsed by good government groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

Nevada voters deserve the same consideration.