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County pushes ahead with redrawing electoral map
by Joshua H. Silavent
Sep 08, 2011 | 1588 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — Washoe County is in the process of redrawing its five commissioner districts as a result of population and demographic changes reported in the 2010 U.S. Census and an open house was held Wednesday for residents, voters and political activists to submit their own ideas about how the new election map ought to look.

The process is inherently complex, county officials acknowledge, making it all the more important to draft several versions of a new electoral map in order to account for the many legal requirements and county-approved guidelines for redistricting.

For example, each commission district should be as equally proportional as possible. The census reports that the county’s population has grown to more than 421,000, a 24 percent increase since 2000, setting a target population for each district at slightly more than 84,000 — give or take 5 percent.

“That’s where we start,” said John Slaughter, Washoe County management services director.

Based on the current district boundaries, some commission seats far exceed the target population count while others fall well below it. District 2, represented by David Humke, is the only district currently within the target range, however it is bound to change given adjustments coming to other districts, Slaughter said.

Other considerations include the Voting Rights Act and issues of fair minority representation; drawing boundaries that are compact and contiguous; using existing districts (drawn in 2001) as benchmarks; and retaining the current residence of each incumbent commissioner in their newly drawn districts.

County officials said they plan to prepare a fifth map for consideration at the next board of commissioners meeting on Sept. 13 which will include public input gathered on Wednesday.

For Lonnie Feemster, president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, the challenges associated with redistricting date back decades.

“These maps have inherent flaws that are 40 or 50 years old,” he said.

Feemster has his own plan in mind.

“I want radical change,” he said.

Feemster wants to see the county’s “urban core,” which accounts for about two-thirds of the population, to have greater representation.

The urban core entails residents with similar social, cultural, economic and political interests, Feemster said, but it currently is so divvied up that it only has a say in District 3, represented by Kitty Jung.

“You don’t need to worry as much about race as economic power,” Feemster said of the urban core.

He would like to see the urban core expanded to include Sun Valley on the north end, Vista Boulevard to the east and McCarran Boulevard to the south and west, allowing residents within these boundaries to have representation among three districts rather than one.

Sun Valley appears to be a major point of contention to adopting any new electoral map. The area currently is represented by Commissioner Bonnie Weber, but proposals include splitting that community between two districts.

But that doesn’t fly with Mario Dela Rosa, a community organizer with the liberal nonprofit Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

“We are looking for a district where there is a majority minority,” he said, adding that incorporating the whole of Sun Valley into District 3 would help this cause.

Dela Rosa also is concerned that Latino and other minorities are being grouped by total population rather than voting-age population.

For example, Latinos account for about 36 percent of the population in District 3, however, they account for only about 29 percent of eligible voters in this district.

Garth Elliott, treasurer of the Sun Valley General Improvement District, wants to keep Sun Valley intact for different reasons.

Sun Valley was “a cohesive group of power that was very decisive in the last election,” he said, adding that he intends to seek the District 5 seat in 2014.

Weber also wants to keep the entirety of Sun Valley within her district, and she said she supports draft version three at this time.

Partisan politics often derail redistricting, particularly at the state level. But Commissioner John Breternitz, a Republican, said he’d like to see politics stay out of play.

“I’m much less interested in the number of Republicans in my district as I am about having this make sense,” he said of the process.

Approval of a final redistricting map is expected by Oct. 11.

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