Redistricting: Proposed maps shore up Democratic advantage in Nevada

Preliminary drafts of congressional and legislative district maps released Tuesday reveal plans by Nevada Democrats to shore up their political advantages through the coming decade, including making two key congressional districts less swingy.

Democratic lawmakers said the maps released ahead of the expected redistricting special session later this week “reflect both our growing population and diversity,” which includes majority non-white populations in three of the state’s four congressional districts and 29 of 63 legislative districts.

“Throughout the state, we’ve proposed compact districts that keep local communities together, including maintaining representation for rural and northern Nevada and undoing the prior map’s splitting of tribal communities,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The proposed maps would make all three of the congressional districts that include at least part of Clark County tilt toward Democrats. Each encompasses an area that President Joe Biden won by between 6 and 8 percentage points in the 2020 election. 

But boosting Democratic power is expected to lead to legal challenges from Republicans, who may have little say in the process as Democrats hold the majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and do not need Republican votes to approve the new district boundaries.

Though state lawmakers have the ultimate authority to draft and enact district maps, the governor holds veto power, and redistricting plans can be challenged in court. But with a Democrat-controlled legislative and executive branch, the chance of Gov. Steve Sisolak vetoing maps from lawmakers of his own party is slim.

Under the proposed maps, the state’s 1st Congressional District — represented by Democratic Rep. Dina Titus — would shift from its current rectangular boundaries in central Las Vegas and extend into Henderson, Boulder City and portions of the state’s eastern border with Arizona, while still including the Las Vegas Strip and the downtown area.

The changes proposed in the maps make Titus’s seat more competitive — Biden won voters inside the congressional district on a 61-36 margin in the 2020 election, but the revised map would cut that 25 point margin down to 8 percentage points (53 to 45 percent for Biden over Trump). 

Congressional District 3, represented by Democratic Rep. Susie Lee and occupying the southern tip of the state south of Las Vegas, would go from having an almost even Democrat-Republican registration split to a nearly double-digit Democratic registration advantage. District boundaries would shift away from Henderson and instead would cover large swaths of southern and western parts of the Las Vegas Valley, including the areas of Spring Valley, Summerlin and Silverado Ranch.

The shifting boundaries are likely to boost Democrats — Biden eked out a narrow victory over Trump in the 2020 election among voters in the 3rd District (49.1 percent to 48.9 percent), but the revised boundaries would see a nearly 7-point difference between Biden and Trump’s vote share. Lee won re-election over Republican Dan Rodmier in the 2020 election by about 3 percentage points.

Analyses of voter registration numbers across Nevada’s congressional districts from 2010 to 2020 reveal that Republicans bolstered their voter registration advantage within that time frame in Congressional District 2, represented by Republican Rep. Mark Amodei. The proposed boundaries of his Northern Nevada district would maintain GOP advantages, including a nearly 10-point advantage among registered Republican voters over Democrats, and would include an area that went for Trump by a similar 10-point margin in the 2020 election. 

The proposed map would also move rural White Pine County, which includes Ely, into Amodei’s district.

The proposed boundaries would also push more registered Democrats into the state’s 4th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Steven Horsford. The district, which currently stretches from North Las Vegas into central, rural Nevada, would now stretch farther into the heart of Las Vegas — crossing portions of U.S. 95 near the Springs Preserve and Charleston Boulevard. 

Proposed new boundaries for Horsford’s district would likely shore up Democratic performance. Voters in the congressional district supported Biden over Trump by a 51 to 47 percentage-point margin in the 2020 election, but the revised boundaries include an area where Biden won by  8.3 percent, almost double that margin (53 percent of the voters in the proposed 4th District went for Biden to 45 percent for Trump).

In the three Clark County congressional districts, voters registered as Democrats outnumbered voters registered as Republicans in both 2010 and 2020. But Democratic advantages in voter registration shrank as surging numbers of nonpartisans — many newly registered since an automatic voter registration law took effect last year — cut into Democrats’ share of voters in each district.

The three proposed congressional districts in Southern Nevada are also majority non-white, an increase of one majority non-white district from 2011, and have significant Latino populations. With 35.5 percent of voters identifying as Latino, Congressional District 1 would continue to have the highest percentage of Latino residents, followed closely by Congressional District 4, where Latinos would make up 34.9 percent of the district.

The proposed congressional maps would maintain Congressional District 4’s historically high concentration of African American residents relative to other districts — 19.4 percent of the proposed district’s residents are Black.

In a nod to Nevada’s growing Asian American Pacific Islander community, state lawmakers said the proposed Congressional District 3 contains an AAPI community of interest, bringing the district’s AAPI population to about 23.5 percent, compared to the 21.4 percent representation the district has under existing boundaries, according to the 2020 census.

The proposed state Senate map shows 10 districts where Democrats would have double-digit registration advantages over Republicans, and five where Republicans would have double-digit advantages over Democrats. Six are swingy, with single-digit separation between registration rates for the two major parties, but only one of those has a Republican registration advantage.

That would be more favorable to Democrats than current maps — statistics from 2020 showed only nine Senate districts with double-digit Democratic advantages, and seven that were swingy. The maps could help Democrats gain more of a foothold in the Senate, where they currently fall short of having a supermajority and have failed to advance tax increases as a result.

That would be more favorable to Democrats than current maps — statistics from 2020 showed only nine Senate districts with double-digit Democratic advantages, and seven that were swingy. The maps could help Democrats gain more of a foothold in the Senate, where they currently fall short of having a supermajority and have failed to advance tax increases as a result.

In the Assembly, proposed maps call for 21 safe Democratic seats, 10 safe Republican seats, and 11 swingy districts where one major party has a single-digit registration advantage over the other. Among the “swingy” districts, four have Democratic registration advantages of more than 5 percentage points, while the rest have closer divides.

By contrast, current maps include 19 districts where Democrats have a double-digit registration advantage, seven districts where Republicans have a double-digit advantage, and 16 where the dominant party has a registration advantage of a single digit or less. Democrats have a two-thirds supermajority under existing maps, allowing them to pass tax increases even if no Republicans vote in favor.

Though lawmakers could have increased or decreased the number of Assembly or Senate seats, the proposed maps maintain the same number of districts in each house.

Republican lawmakers have expressed fears about Democratic overreach and have preemptively raised questions about Democrats’ motives ahead of the redistricting process.  Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden) sent a fundraising email to supporters Monday urging their support to “deter any possible Democrat thoughts of gerrymandering” a “deep red” district.

“I want to make sure your voice is still represented loud and clear, and send a message that this campaign is here to fight for your values,” Wheeler wrote.


Sean Golonka contributed to this report. Updated at 4:30 p.m. on 11/10/21 with more detail about Assembly maps.

For background on how the process will affect Nevada, read The Nevada Independent’s three-part series on redistricting. 

The first part is an explanation of why the process matters. To learn about Nevada’s tumultuous redistricting history, from lawsuits to the “session from hell,” read part two. Finally, take a deep dive into the state’s demographic changes since 2010 and look at how uneven population growth could mean significant shifts in political boundaries in the third installment of the series.