Not just lines on a map, electoral districts literally steal votes

By Jordan Ross

I first got involved in politics as a candidate myself with the slogan “Because the Right to Representation Matters.” I won and have since been re-elected twice more. But the inherent promise in that statement has to be constantly made good if I expect my constituents to keep re-electing me. I live in a small township, I’m close to my voters, and they know they have the right to expect me to respond to their concerns.

This is an increasing problem across many parts of the country where gerrymandering has allowed candidates who don’t really have the support of their constituencies to continue in office. The bottom line is that the voters in the communities just aren’t represented at all – their votes have been stolen.  

The Virginia legislature truly represents its people for the first time in years after a court threw out it racist gerrymandered districts. And a court in North Carolina has started the same process, banning obviously rigged districts, and ordering new ones to be drawn for their congressional elections. Last year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the congressional district maps in that state; they were drawn so bizarrely the state had become a laughingstock of corruption in elections.  

It seems you don’t need to blatantly segregate and discriminate against voters to take away their right to vote – just draw district lines that make their votes worthless.  

An interesting proposal from Beatty public school teacher Benjamin Pennington has begun the slow process of becoming a constitutional amendment to Nevada’s Constitution. I would suggest that there is one very good concept in this proposal. I would support the introduction of ranked voting to reflect the opinions and goals of a larger portion of the electorate more accurately. The mathematics clearly support that. All too often the current two stage past the post system yields a final winner that a majority of voters would rather not have. Ranked voting would produce office holders with a much broader base of support and less polarization of politics. 

However, I strongly object to multi-member districts. Voters want to know who their personal representative is and to be able to hold that one person accountable. Single member districts would be smaller and would keep representation closer to the communities they serve. As for gerrymandering, we’d be better off in codifying the current court-imposed system of legislative nesting of two assembly districts into each Senate district. Nesting instantly eliminates all gerrymandering of Senate districts. 

Combine that with the proposal by the League of Women Voters for an independent redistricting commission that would end gerrymandering of Assembly districts and you’re done. This is more important than some voters may think; for a decade we’ve already had nesting, keeping gerrymandering out of Senate districts but this was imposed by a court 10 years ago when the Legislature couldn’t agree on district borders. But nesting is not enshrined in either statute or constitution and is at risk of disappearing without pressure from voters to keep it. 

I do think the Legislature should be a little larger. The growing urban population has reduced the number of legislative seats in Nevada’s rural counties. I think both major parties want to support rural life and adding a few more seats would cost very little and add a few more rural voices without proportionally disenfranchising urban and suburban voters. There would also be the benefit that districts would be closer to urban voters as well. The legislature could on its own increase the size to 74 seats in both houses and keep nesting at the same time. This wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment. 

Mr. Pennington’s effort is in the right direction. I support the effort for electoral reform and as a state we should look into further changes to better represent the voters. But this proposal isn’t ready for prime time. 

The independent redistricting proposal by the League of Women Voters is long overdue and the success of such commissions in other states should dispel any doubts some voters may have. It’s just too much to ask legislators to be fair and impartial when they’re drawing their own electoral borders. 

All of this may seem too nerdy or too much like inside baseball to many voters, but everyone needs to know the value of their vote is on the line and it’s worth doing something about.

Because representation matters.

Jordan Ross is a constable in Laughlin, Nevada.