The Executive Board heard testimony Feb. 17 on a proposal to guide the Legislature’s redistricting process.
The Legislature is responsible for drawing new governmental boundaries every 10 years after the U.S. Census for districts pertaining to the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska Board of Regents and the state Board of Education.
Redistricting is scheduled to be undertaken in 2021.
LB107, sponsored by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, would adopt the Redistricting Act. He said the bill incorporates the best practices of several redistricting bills introduced by a variety of senators over the last several years.
“It’s essential that we get this [redistricting] process right,” McCollister said, calling it “one of the most consequential” processes that senators undertake.
McCollister said that unless lawmakers remove the perception that redistricting is politically motivated, residents may attempt to remove the process from the Legislature through the initiative process and place it in the hands of an independent commission.
Among other provisions, the act would require that maps be drawn using politically neutral criteria and using only data and demographic information from the U.S. Census. The bill would prohibit consideration of residents’ political affiliation or registration and previous voting data.
Data used in the redistricting process would be made available to the public and at least one public hearing would be required. Once a map is created, only amendments to correct technical errors would be allowed and the governor would be required to call a special session if the Legislature fails to adopt new maps.
Gavin Geis of Common Cause Nebraska testified in support of the bill, saying that previous redistricting efforts in Nebraska have been “extremely partisan.” It’s important to improve public trust in the process, he said, adding that the predicted delay of census data this year allows ample opportunity for senators to decide how best to achieve that goal.
“We have time yet to make a fair, more transparent process for Nebraska,” Geis said.
Danielle Conrad, representing the ACLU of Nebraska, also supported LB107. A sound redistricting process should be transparent, participatory and nonpartisan, she said, and should protect minority voting rights. Relying solely on census data rather than partisan data would help in that effort, she said.
“We want to ensure trust in the process, we want to ensure fair elections and we want to ensure that voters choose their elected representatives — not the other way around,” Conrad said.
No one testified against LB107 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.