Home>Articles>Lawsuits Filed To Block Ballot Initiative Aimed To End Gerrymandering

Nevada State Legislature, Carson City. (Photo: Megan Barth for The Nevada Globe)

Lawsuits Filed To Block Ballot Initiative Aimed To End Gerrymandering

Democratic activist Eric Jeng is a familiar plaintiff for Attorney Bradley Schrager

By Megan Barth, December 11, 2023 3:58 pm

After the Democratic majority in the Nevada legislature commissioned an unknown consultancy agency to redraw Nevada’s political maps, the majority hastily passed the new maps on a party line vote to the behest of progressive activists and republican lawmakers. Yes, you read that right. Progressive activists and Nevada republicans opposed a bill that impacted Nevada voters for a decade, as Democratic lawmakers aimed to secure a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

In 2021, The Globe reported that the Democratic majority in the state legislature, during a five-day special session, gerrymandered Nevada’s political maps into a Democratic supermajority. The political maps were drawn using data from the 2020 Census.

Upon passage, Democratic leaders issued this statement: “The maps passed today reflect our diverse and vibrant state and set us on a path for the next ten years where the voices of all those who call Nevada home are represented.”

Then-Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer told The Globe: “Independents and non-partisans are really the ones who have been disenfranchised by this process. Independents represent the largest political party in Washoe county, but they aren’t represented in any of these new Senate or Assembly districts…by design of the majority party. We created maps that could have given them (Democrats) the opportunity to be elected, so it will be up to the people to decide.”

The Senate and Assembly Caucus take questions from the press after SB-1 passes the Legislature (Photo: Megan Barth for The Nevada Globe)

Our reporting was recently confirmed in a report from the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a group that analyzes redistricting maps across the United States.

The Gerrymandering Project awarded Nevada’s Democrats an ‘F’ due to their approving redistricting maps into a “significant Democratic advantage” by creating three reliably blue U.S. House districts and one reliably red U.S. House District.  According to their report, all four of Nevada’s districts were outside of the “competitive zone,” which is when a district’s partisan split is within 7 points.

“None of Nevada’s four districts are in that seven point range, which means that it’s relatively straightforward to predict how each of the four districts will fall in a congressional election. And that is currently three Democrats, one Republican,” said Sam Wang, with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. “When you draw those lines, it’s possible for politicians to pick their voters as opposed to what we think should be the case, which is voters picking their politicians,” Wang emphasized.

Nevada Democrats passed political maps awarding them an unfair advantage (Photo: Screenshot of study from Princeton’s Gerrymandering Project)

In order to bring an ounce of transparency to the legislative process, Fair Maps Nevada PAC filed two initiative petitions, according to the Review Journal, “that aim to end gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party or class — by establishing a seven-member independent redistricting commission to redraw the maps, rather than giving the responsibility to the Legislature. The PAC submitted two different questions, one that would redraw the maps in 2027 and another that would redraw the maps in 2031.”

The Review Journal reports that a lawsuit has now been filed to block the 2024 initiative petitions:

Lawsuits were filed Thursday to block the 2024 initiative petitions that seek to establish an independent redistricting commission.

Plaintiff Eric Jeng, a Clark County resident who also serves as senior adviser for the Asian Community Development Council, argues in the complaints filed in Carson City District Court that the initiatives violate the Nevada Constitution because they would require government funding.

In the complaints submitted by Las Vegas attorney Bradley Schrager, Jeng argues the initiatives are nearly identical to a petition that was circulated in 2019, which was also met with litigation. In that case, a judge concluded that the description was inadequate in that it did not provide enough information about the cost of the initiative.

Sondra Cosgrove, president of Fair Maps Nevada, said the PAC will be challenging the complaints against both initiatives.

“There are no options for Nevadans to identify how to pay for something proposed in a ballot question, she said. In their response to the complaint, the group may ask the court to make a decision that balances “our constitutional right to run a ballot question against the need to notify voters that the ballot question outcome may need public funding,” Cosgrove said.

Democratic activist Eric Jeng is a familiar plaintiff for Attorney Bradley Schrager. As The Globe reported, Schrager, on Jeng’s behalf, filed a lawsuit in 2022 to stop a Voter ID ballot initiative. However, in Schrager’s latest attempt to stop a 2024 voter ID ballot initiative, Jeng is not the plaintiff.

Schrager’s plaintiff in this latest challenge to Voter ID is Jennifer Fleischmann Willoughby (she, her, ella) Director Of Development for Make The Road Nevada, a “left-of-center community organizing group that focuses on immigration issues and organizes protests, community services and political advocacy efforts among the immigrant community in Nevada.”

In 2021, an independent redistricting commission was sponsored by then-Senator Ben Keikheffer, who is now serving as Governor Lombardo’s Chief of Staff. The constitutional amendment never received a hearing from the Democratic majority.

Assembly Gregory Hafen (R-Pahrump) Photo: NV Assembly website

Assemblyman Greg Hafen filed a lawsuit days after the maps were approved by the legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak. The lawsuit specifically claimed that the maps were “intentional extreme partisan gerrymander.” The lawsuit was heard by Judge James T. Russell who ruled that a special panel would complete the redistricting process. After several months, the three-member panel of “special masters” approved the maps in October.

Assm. Hafen told the Globe: “Delaying the special session put us up against a timeline that was impossible to do anything before the election began.

Democrats delayed our lawsuit until they had filed to run for office and the 2022 election was already in process. The judge didn’t throw the case out, but by this time we had spent over $100,000 in legal fees, we could see that the case would end up in the Nevada Supreme Court and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court–which would costs us millions of dollars.

The Democrats legal costs would be covered by the state.

Their attorney did work for Joe Biden.

So we made the decision to use our resources in the election, rather than come up with millions to fight them in court. There is a very similar lawsuit in North Carolina that went to U.S. Supreme Court and, essentially, ruled in our favor. So, it’s really tough to say we were right, but it was a worthy cause.

This last session, I brought forwarded an independent redistricting commission but the Democrats didn’t want to do anything with it because they enjoy a near supermajority.”



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