OMAHA, Neb. — A coalition of 13 good government organizations today announced their support for a bill that aims to eliminate politics and partisanship from the mandatory, once-in-a-decade redrawing of the state’s political districts.
Common Cause Nebraska, ACLU of Nebraska, Black Votes Matter, Heartland Workers Center and the League of Women Voters of Nebraska are among the government watchdogs to endorse Legislative Bill 107, known as the Redistricting Act, sponsored by Sen. John S. McCollister of Omaha. The bill is scheduled for an executive board hearing at noon Wednesday.
The Redistricting Act sets in statute new rules for the Unicameral’s redistricting committee, composed of five lawmakers from the majority party and four lawmakers of the minority party. The rules would require bipartisan approval of the committee’s chair and vice chair and would prohibit partisan demographic or voting data from being used to draw district boundaries.
Quotes of Support for the Redistricting Act
“The Nebraska Redistricting Committee is just months away from drawing new state legislative and congressional districts, and our top priority is to make sure these districts are fair, equitable, and representative — rather than subject to unfair gerrymandering,” said Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska. “The Redistricting Act would make that possible by clearing the way for a more transparent and nonpartisan redistricting process.”
“According to our new polling, over 90% of Nebraska voters want redistricting to be data-driven, transparent, and nonpartisan,” said Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska. “Redistricting matters because it’s about protecting the voice and power of all Nebraskans in fair elections over the next decade. Redistricting matters because voters should pick their politicians not the other way around. Nebraskans from across the political spectrum expect our state senators to rise to the occasion, set aside personal or political interests, honor our unique nonpartisan political culture, and do this right.”
“Communities of color are looking for redistricting to provide reduced watering down our representation,” said Preston Love Jr., director of Blacks Votes Matter.
“Fair and nonpartisan districting is an extension of Nebraska’s long proud tradition of nonpartisanship and a cornerstone of a healthy democracy,” said Micky Devitt, legal and policy coordinator at Heartland Workers Center. “In these polarized times it is more important than ever to avoid the appearance that considerations like race or party are undermining our principle of one person, one vote.”
“The League of Women Voters encourages all Nebraskans to follow redistricting in the state to promote transparent and accountable redistricting,” said Sheri St. Clair, president of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska.
Key Reforms in the Redistricting Act
Prohibits consideration of the political affiliation and voting data of registered voters, and demographic information other than from the U.S. Bureau of the Census when drawing legislative boundaries. This defuses partisanship and political gerrymandering.
Requires a hearing on the proposed maps in each of Nebraska’s congressional districts. This provides necessary transparency and accountability to residents and voters.
Requires a two-third vote of the redistricting committee (six of the nine members) to elect the chair and vice chair of the committee. This means the committee leaders, themselves of different political parties, will be selected in a bipartisan manner and may lead in a bipartisan manner.
Prohibits changes, other than technical corrective amendments, to the maps produced by the redistricting committee. This means the Legislature cannot redraw any lines to protect themselves prior to taking an up or down vote.
Reform groups in Nebraska had previously favored taking the redistricting process away from politicians and giving the power to draw lines to a nonpartisan, citizen-led committee. States including Michigan, Colorado and California have established such independent redistricting commissions, but a ballot measure to do so in Nebraska was discontinued last year after COVID-19 restrictions prevented signature gathering.
The pandemic complicates this year’s redistricting process in another way, as delays in collecting and correcting census data translate to delays in its release to states for mapdrawing purposes. The U.S. Census Bureau figures are not expected to be released until late September, after the committee has started its work.
“It is important that Nebraska legislators embrace this modest, common sense redistricting reform now so the Redistricting Committee is prepared to conduct nonpartisan mapdrawing when key census data is delivered this fall,” Geis said. “Setting clear rules for the redistricting process should make it harder for legislators to pick and choose which people they represent. Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.”
The coalition supporting the Redistricting Act includes: Common Cause Nebraska, ACLU of Nebraska, Anti-Defamation League Plains States Region, Black Votes Matter, Civic Nebraska, Heartland Workers Center, League of Women Voters of Nebraska, NAACP Lincoln Branch, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraskans for Peace, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, Rank the Vote Nebraska, and Represent US Omaha.