Lawmakers approved a resolution April 8 that will guide the Legislature’s 2011 redistricting efforts.
LR102, introduced by the Redistricting Committee, establishes criteria to guide the Legislature in drawing district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Public Service Commission and state Board of Education. District boundaries must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes throughout the state.
Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, chairperson of the committee, said the criteria would ensure that redistricting plans meet legal parameters and are constitutionally acceptable.
Among other provisions, the guidelines require that the Legislature:
- use population data and geographical information from the 2010 U.S. Census;
- not dilute the strength of any minority population;
- create districts that are substantially equal in population;
- not favor a political party or consider the political affiliation of registered voters; and
- follow county lines whenever practicable and follow traditional districting principles of compactness and contiguity.
Under the resolution, congressional districts shall be drawn with an overall population range of deviation of no more than 1 percent, with a goal of zero deviation. The remaining districts would be drawn with an overall range of deviation of no more than 10 percent.
Langemeier said the goal is to create districts that are as equal in population as possible, but that the Legislature may consider legitimate state objectives if deviation is necessary.
Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad agreed, saying the committee is dedicated to keeping the relative deviations between districts as small as possible.
“We see this deviation issue as a ceiling rather than a floor,” she said.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha said allowing a high level of deviation in order to accommodate priorities such as respecting county lines runs the risk of violating the principle of one person, one vote.
“I would think that one person, one vote would supersede,” he said.
Harr also suggested that technological improvements since the last redistricting should result in a lower range of deviation than was set by the 2001 Legislature and incorporated into LR102.
But Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery said a 5 percent variation between districts is within the margin of what is considered best practices for redistricting and that current technology has not made it easier to establish legislative districts of equal size.
“The software is better now,” Avery said. “But the main difference between the software we have today and 10 years ago is that it’s much faster.”
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said lawmakers should consider using census data to determine trends in Nebraska’s population over the last 20 years and draw district lines in anticipation of future growth. He noted that Legislative District 39 currently contains twice the population of a standard district.
“What we should be looking at is which of the districts might grow into the deviation,” Lathrop said.
Sen. Dave Pankonin of Louisville said the redistricting process likely will be less contentious than in decades past due to term limits. Approximately 30 current senators won’t be seeking reelection after the process is concluded, he said.
“It’s going to be different this time,” Pankonin said, “because so many of us won’t be affected by this.”
Lawmakers adopted LR102 on a 40-0 vote.