Fair Maps Nevada Redistricting Reform Ballot Question

Fair Maps Nevada Constitutional Amendment Explainer

First, a historical and philosophical framework:

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, our country’s founders created a governing document sufficient to address the needs of the day, while simultaneously flexible enough to adapt to the realities of the future.  They crafted a blueprint of government that aimed to balance governing powers between competing branches, the states, and future generations, who can recalibrate that balance as needed.

Our founders established direct representation in the legislative house which holds the power to raise taxes, to address the colonial-era argument of “no taxation without representation.”  And, instead of over-relying on prescriptive regulations, they cleverly engineered mechanisms of countervailing power to harness self-interest as a tool to keep corruption at bay. Self-interested groups all watch the cookie jar to ensure no one cheats.

Our current census and redistricting processes are the legacies of these governing philosophies. To ensure responsible, direct representation in the House of Representatives, and later in state and local governments, our founders envisioned districts that produced leaders equally impacted by the laws and taxes they voted to pass.  Districts, therefore, were to be drawn to elect officials with deep connections to their constituents and to empower constituents to hold their leaders accountable.

The U.S. Constitution, the results of our founder’s efforts, has served us well for over two-hundred years and when we have found it wanting, we’ve used its amending process to fix the deficiency.  We have, however, faced one daunting challenge that has been difficult to address. 

Our founders assumed the United States would be too diverse for organized political groups to form, so they opted to not address the role of political parties in the Constitution, yet political parties did form after the Constitution’s ratification. And as those parties melded into our governing infrastructure, we’ve faced destructive struggles as partisans disabled checks and balances to benefit their group over the public’s interest.

Efforts to regulate the destructive power of the political parties have come through laws, litigation, and amendments to the federal and state constitutions.  Some of these efforts have directly cut off access to power, while other reforms have indirectly curtailed a range of possible outcomes.

Despite not specifically addressing political organizations, our Constitution does clearly prioritize representation with its directive to conduct a decennial census (Article I Section 2).  And while it is silent on redistricting details, the people were empowered through their elected officials to create representative districts.

Unfortunately, the political parties were then able to assert control over the redistricting process, which allowed partisans to produce maps that ensured favorable electoral victories. By co-opting redistricting power for partisan purposes, commonly known as gerrymandering, the political parties made it almost impossible for the people to reclaim this power merely by electing new representatives from these distorted districts.

Gerrymandered districts produce candidates who represent a party’s interests, not constituent interests, so gerrymandering allows the political parties to draw district maps to benefit incumbents and their candidates at the expense of the people.

Our proposed solution:

Since the Civil War gerrymandering cases have generally divided into two kinds, racial and partisan, with both types aiming to suppress the influence of voters.  Since the 1950s litigation through the federal courts has been the preferred remedy until recently.

The League of Women Voters alone and in coalitions has sued to overturn gerrymandered maps on a state by state basis.  Unfortunately, in June of 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in cases out of North Carolina and Maryland that partisan gerrymandering is a political issue that cannot be fixed through the federal courts. So, we needed a new strategy.

The League of Women Voters isn’t about to celebrate our 100-year anniversary because we back down from a fight; we’ve endured because we figure out how to go over the wall when a gate shuts.  In this instance, we looked at our 2017 Pennsylvania gerrymandering case for a solution.

In that case, the League of Women Voters Pennsylvania sued to overturn gerrymandered maps based on their state constitution, including their “free and fair election” clause. We won and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court then affirmed the ruling and struck down the state’s gerrymandered districts.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Party appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court declined to accept the case; this effectively established a state option for curbing partisan gerrymandering. Combined with a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which established the constitutionality of independent redistricting commissions, we arrived at a new strategy.

Subsequently, in September of 2019, the League of Women Voters announced our People Powered Fair Maps initiative, which focuses on a mix of state and federal solutions for partisan gerrymandering.  Each League affiliate decided the best option for addressing their own state’s potential for current and future gerrymandering.  https://www.lwv.org/redistricting/people-powered-fair-mapstm

League affiliates in states with established redistricting commissions are advocating for the U.S. Senate to bring H.R. 1, which passed the House of Representatives with yes votes from Nevada’s three Democratic congressional representatives, up for a vote. H.R. 1 requires every state to have a redistricting commission.

The League of Women Voters of Nevada opted to pursue a state constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission.  We selected this option foremost to prioritize the power of the people in the redistricting process and to create checks and balances to regulate the influence of the political parties.

The argument for our amendment:

We recognize that for many Nevadans, political parties provide familiar infrastructure to express views on a wide range of issues. That’s why our redistricting plan includes the political parties through their representatives in the Nevada Legislature, while also subjecting them to new mechanisms of countervailing power that ensure they prioritize the public interest ahead of their narrow personal political careers.  

Our commission, therefore, protects the redistricting process from not only the personal ambitions of self-interested politicians but also brings it out of smoke-filled backrooms and into the light by closing an existing loophole that exempts the redistricting process from state Open Meeting laws. Too much of what happens during legislative sessions happens away from the public’s eyes. Under our plan, redistricting will no longer be hidden behind closed doors. 

Right now, approximately twenty-five percent of Nevada’s registered voters are not affiliated with the two major political parties, and so have no voice whatsoever in the redistricting process.  Our proposed redistricting commission gives these Nevadans a seat at the table. 

We recognize that running a constitutional amendment ballot question is a heavy lift that requires gathering a substantial number of signatures and receiving an affirmative vote in two consecutive elections. But this process ensures permanence and consistency for the redistricting process because any future attempts to eliminate the redistricting commission must use the same arduous process and secure similar levels of support.

We could have chosen to run an easier-to-pass statutory ballot question. But this would allow the political parties to change and/or effectively kill the law.

If our amendment succeeds in both 2020 and 2022, the new redistricting process will start in 2023 with enabling legislation to help guide the commission. At this point, Nevada’s legislature will have a mandate from the U.S. Constitution and the Nevada Constitution to engage in the redistricting process, so it will fund redistricting just as it has in the past.

We did look at redistricting models from other states with commissions and considered whether to constitute the commission through an application process, but we worried that randomly selecting commissioners through such a process could produce unrepresentative selections. We, therefore, decided on the following process, which will result in a commission comprised of seven members. 

Leaders of the two major parties will select four members. Nevadans registered with these two parties will be able to influence this part of the process through their elected, party representatives. We believe party constituents will pressure their leaders to appoint commissioners who reflect the various, diverse groups in their party.  

These four commissioners will then select three members who are not affiliated with either of the major political parties. 

If Nevadans would like to include an application process to assist in selecting these three commission members, they can do so by influencing the legislature’s enabling legislation. Amendments to our constitution cannot include such administrative matters, so these are not outlined in the measure itself.

Once constituted, and unlike under our current legislative redistricting process, the new redistricting commission will be constitutionally required to do their work in the open, and it will be constitutionally required to allow the public to participate in the process. Redistricting software can be easily accessed by the public online, creating an additional layer of public scrutiny to effectively check the commission’s work.

Under our amendment, the redistricting commission will be constitutionally required to meet the following criteria:

The Commission will ensure, to the extent possible, that the electoral districts comply with the United States Constitution, have an approximately equal number of inhabitants, are geographically compact and contiguous, provide equal opportunities for racial and language minorities to participate in the political process, respect areas with recognized similarities of interests, including racial, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, geographic, or historic identities, do not unduly advantage or disadvantage a political party and are politically competitive.

In our last round of redistricting, in 2011, the Democrats controlled both legislative houses, and Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed two sets of maps drawn by them, arguing that both violated the Voting Rights Act. According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Constituent Services Office, these maneuverings cost taxpayers $85,000.

At a stalemate, a judge created a redistricting panel that consisted of three nonpartisan “special masters” tasked with following nearly the same criteria as in our amendment. Neither party sued to reject this independent redistricting panel, and it drew the maps that we have today. But altogether, the ad hoc and litigious nature of this addition to the legislative redistricting process drove the cost to taxpayers up to $332,000.   

Read more about the 2011 redistricting process here: https://www.recordcourier.com/news/local/special-masters-praise-new-redistricting-process

Once our proposed redistricting commission is constituted after a second affirmative vote in 2022, it will adopt a redistricting plan. This plan can come from new maps or the very same maps drawn by the legislature in 2021. If the maps drawn in 2021 align with the amendment’s criteria, the new commission can simply adopt those maps as the state’s plan. 

Again, the amendment does not require our redistricting maps to be redrawn in 2023, it only tasks the commission with adopting a redistricting plan. Hopefully, this will encourage both parties to not gerrymander in 2021.

If members of the legislature refuse to fulfill any part of our plan’s constitutional mandate, we will be ready to sue to protect Nevada’s constitution.

We are confident our description of effect is legally sound and we believe any lawsuits will be quickly resolved so that we can begin gathering signatures.

 

 

Advocacy During the Interim Alert: Behavioral and Mental Health Workforce Development 

League members and supporters,

We have an opportunity to advance our position on mental and behavioral health workforce development coming up next week.  The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents is meeting on December 5th and 6th at UNLV.  

Dr. Sara Hunt, Assistant Dean of Behavioral Health Sciences and Director of the UNLV Mental Health and Behavioral Health Training Coalition, who is a member of our League’s Behavioral and Mental Health Committee, is presenting on behavioral and mental health workforce development during the Regents Health Sciences Committee portion of the meeting.  See the details below.

You can view Sara’s presentation here:

https://nshe.nevada.edu/wp-content/uploads/file/BoardOfRegents/Agendas/2019/12-dec-mtgs/hss-refs/HSS-6a.pdf

You can view Sara’s proposal for creating a workforce development program in Nevada here:

https://nshe.nevada.edu/wp-content/uploads/file/BoardOfRegents/Agendas/2019/12-dec-mtgs/hss-refs/HSS-6b.pdf

You can view Nebraska’s Behavioral Health Education Program, which Sara references as a model for Nevada, here:

https://nshe.nevada.edu/wp-content/uploads/file/BoardOfRegents/Agendas/2019/12-dec-mtgs/hss-refs/HSS-6c.pdf

The Regents Health Sciences Committee offers public comment at the end of the meeting, so we need as many League Advocacy During the Interim engagers as possible to attend the committee meeting and to speak briefly in support of Dr. Hunt’s workforce development proposal.  If you cannot attend and would like to instead send a message to the Regents who serve on the Health Sciences Committee, please see the email addresses below.

The Health Sciences Committee meeting is on Thursday, December 5th, at 11 a.m.

Here are the full meeting documents and you can also live-stream the meeting from this page:

https://nshe.nevada.edu/leadership-policy/board-of-regents/meeting-agendas/

The Regents will be meeting in the UNLV Student, which is accessible on the Maryland Parkway side of the campus:

https://www.unlv.edu/maps/su

Health Sciences System Committee

Thursday, December 5, 2019 – 11 a.m.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Student Union, Ballroom A 

4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

 Click to view the meeting agenda

If you would like to send messages supporting our behavioral and mental health workforce development initiative, you can communicate through email directly with the Regents who serve on the Health Sciences Committee:

Committee Chair, Regent Kevin Page: kpage@nshe.nevada.edu

Regent Amy Carvalho: acarvalho@nshe.nevada.edu

Regent Cathy McAdoo: cmcadoo@nshe.nevada.edu

Regent Sam Lieberman: slieberman@nshe.nevada.edu

Regent John T. Moran: jmoran@nshe.nevada.edu

Regent Rick Trachok: rtrachok@nshe.nevada.edu

You can read more about our Advocacy During the Interim program here: https://lwvnvblog.org/advocacy-during-the-interim/

You can read more about our Behavioral and Mental Health Advocacy plan here: https://lwvnvblog.org/mental-and-behavioral-health/

And you can become a League of Women Voters of Southern Nevada member and supporter here:

http://lwvsn.org/membership.html

 

 

Advocacy Alert: Behavioral Health Care Reform Input Needed

The Legislative Committee on Health Care begins holding interim meetings on Wednesday, November 20, 2019, at 9 am.  You can attend in-person or watch the hearing through online streaming.  Both options have instructions on this page: https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/InterimCommittee/REL/Interim2019/Meeting/5508

You can also review the League of Women Voters of Nevada Guide to Advocacy During the Interim, which provides information for watching hearing recordings, here: https://lwvnvblog.org/advocacy-during-the-interim/

Item VIII on the Health Care Committee agenda focuses on the Behavioral Health Crisis Response in Nevada (see below under Resources).  The League of Women Voters of Nevada has prioritized addressing the deficiencies in Nevada’s mental and behavioral health care system and we are emphasizing advocacy during this interim legislative session.  So, this Wednesday we’ll have our first opportunity to start interim engagement on one of our priorities.

Stephanie Woodard, Psy.D., Senior Advisor on Behavioral Health, and Dawn Yohey, Clinical Program Planner will review the state of behavioral health care in Nevada for the Committee on Health Care, starting with why Nevada ranks 51st in the Mental Health America 2020 report.  In sum, if there is a problem with mental and behavioral health care, we have that problem in Nevada. You can read more here:

https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

In 2019 we know that behavioral and mental health issues can start early in life, yet Nevada suffers severe shortages of behavioral health services and providers for children and their families.  And our school systems struggle to offer behavioral health support in the education setting, where it is easier to engage with children and their families.

LWVN Behavioral Health Workforce Development

We are spending millions of dollars cycling adults who need mental health treatment through our emergency rooms with few if any positive results.  We are sending children out of state, away from their families, for behavioral health treatment not available in Nevada.

We expect our first-responders to aid adults who have lost family support due to the overwhelming burden we place on families as they struggle to support sons, daughters, wives, and husbands suffering from diseases of the brain that are no less real than diseases of other body systems.

We are in a crisis because it is a heavy lift to create a new behavioral and mental health system that produces better results from scratch, yet if we continue on the current path our behavioral and mental health problems will only get worse.  We will waste millions of dollars, destroy thousands of lives, and achieve worsening results.  

Improvements in education outcomes, reductions in homelessness, and drops in incarceration rates will be out of reach until we dedicate ourselves to creating a better mental and behavioral health care system.

Anyone who thinks we are somehow saving money by not funding open access to behavioral and mental health care should look at the amounts we are spending on Legal 2000 medical holds, on expecting public safety officers to double a mental health intake officers, and on warehousing the mentally ill in our jails and prisons.

Treatment Advocacy Center

If you can attend the November 20th Legislative Health Care Committee hearing, please consider speaking during the public comment period at the beginning or end of the meeting in support of Dr. Woodard’s efforts to create a rationale and responsive behavioral and mental health care system. 

  • We need workforce development to address our behavioral health professional shortages.
  • We need dedicated analysists who can construct an integrated behavioral health care system that produces better outcomes.
  • We need to recognize and rectify the fact that our current system has imposed homelessness and incarceration on community members who instead need access to medical treatment.
  • We need to admit that our behavioral and mental health crisis is also a civil rights crisis.

Mental Health Implications for Policing Practices and the Administration of Justice

If you cannot attend the hearing, please consider submitted comments to the Health Care Committee:

Resources:

Presentation Regarding Behavioral Health Crisis Response in Nevada

The Medicaid IMD Exclusion and Mental Illness Discrimination

The Medicaid IMD Exclusion: An Overview and Opportunities for Reform