Public scrutiny of county council redistricting efforts sends map back to the drawing board


An outcry from Clark County residents on perceived gerrymandering in the county council’s redistricting process dominated the latest hearing, as councilors decided to direct staff to generate a map that’s similar to the one that appeared in front of voters. 

During an April 13 hearing, the Clark County Council heard written and oral testimony from dozens of people who were largely opposed to the latest alternative map for county council districts. The hearing focused on a map that intends to keep the current councilors in the districts they currently represent.

During the November election, Clark County voters approved an amendment to the county’s home rule charter, which changed the number of districts from four to five. It also made the formerly at-large council chair position an appointed position by the members of the council.

Public testimony was overwhelmingly against the map under consideration at the hearing, largely because it was created at the direction of the county council to keep the current seatholders in their respective districts.

Rob Anderson, who testified at the meeting, said the councilors’ acknowledgement of their intent with the new map is “(saying) the quiet part out loud.” 

“It clearly uses their office for personal gain, to be able to be re-elected as an incumbent in the district in which they now sit,” Anderson said.

Peter Harrison, who also testified, quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion in a 2015 case where she wrote “the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” 

Jason Aurand said the alternative map would open the county up to legal challenges.

“You have directed to have a map made with your personal addresses being the most important issue,” Aurand said.

Nancy Halvorson, of the League of Women Voters of Clark County, asked the council to keep the map that was approved by voters. Though the league initially supported another map generated by a now-disbanded redistricting committee, the proximity to this year’s election cycle made that option unfeasible in their opinion.

Halvorson, like others who testified, said the council shouldn’t meddle with the process.

“The action that you seem to be taking is self-serving, inappropriate, improper and against the will of the voters,” Halvorson said.

Councilor Gary Medvigy moved to approve the alternative map. He and councilor Julie Olson voted for it, though council chair Karen Bowerman and councilor Temple Lentz voted against it, deadlocking the motion 2-2.

Medvigy refuted the idea that the alternative map benefitted councilors directly. He also said claims of gerrymandering are false. 

“We have followed all of the state guidelines — all of them — to come up with this new map,” Medvigy said.

He said nothing in the alternative map favored one party, and the Clark County Charter Review Commission — which drew up the map in front of voters when the amendment was approved — knew that three of the then-current councilors would be moved into one district.

“If it was intentional, there could be no more direct way to gerrymander than to have taken that step of putting the majority of council, all of the same party, into one district,” Medvigy said. “No one told the public about it. It wasn’t in the voter pamphlet.”

Medvigy and other councilors agreed that the redistricting process as a whole was flawed. Though he voted to approve the map which involved council direction, at one point he agreed their involvement isn’t a good process to follow.

“It is untoward that we’re looking at redistricting at a time when we’re in these respective offices,” Medvigy said.

Lentz said if the motion passed, she expected to see “a lot of litigation in the future.” 

“This council is clearly on the record directing staff to create a map that protects them, making sure that they are included in the districts in which they currently serve, prioritizing personal political ambitions over the public interest,” Lentz said.

Though Lentz understood the desire to keep the same map that was placed in front of voters, she noted the population data that was used was prior to the 2020 Census. It had significant discrepancies in population, Lentz said, with one district having more than 5,000 fewer residents than the target number.

“I don’t think it would serve the public’s needs to start with a map that is already imbalanced,” she said, noting the map would be used for 10 years.

Lentz put forward a motion to recuse the council from drawing map lines and to direct county staff to create a map following state guidelines, while adjusting the voter-approved map with updated census data and “specifically excluding a consideration for the precincts in which current councilors live.”

Though Lentz said it was possible the map generated by staff would mirror one previously considered through the process, she said the motion brought a layer of transparency.

“What we’ve been hearing very loudly from the community is that frankly they don’t trust this council to draw or pick a map,” Lentz said.

All but Bowerman voted for Lentz’s motion. Bowerman said her “no” vote was based on her desire to move the process forward, as the motion would require more time as staff drafted another map. 

Alongside the redrawing motion, the council moved to continue the hearing to April 27, which is one day before the deadline that directs the changes to be ready for candidates filing for this year’s election.


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