As redistricting stalls, legislature could adjourn with no maps, and delay primary elections

Posted at 10:25 PM, Sep 21, 2021

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska Legislature is at an impasse and comments from Speaker Mike Hilgers signal that the legislature will end the special session early and go home with zero redistricted maps, if the Unicameral can’t find agreement on the two most controversial maps by Saturday.

"All six redistricting bills have to pass general file by Saturday. If we are not able to do that general file by Saturday, all the bills, we will adjourn,” said Hilgers.

While the legislature needs to pass six maps in total, the two maps in question are the congressional and legislative maps. If they don’t pass those maps until next year, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen told me over the phone that the May primary election would have to be delayed.

An agreement doesn’t seem to be made as of Tuesday night.

"We don't have a way out yet, we're still stuck,” said Senator John McCollister.

Redistricted maps help determine political power, affect presidential elections over the next ten years, and often bring the technically non-partisan legislature into their own corners.

"We pride ourselves in Nebraska on having a non-partisan Unicameral and of course that's not entirely true but at least they make an effort in that direction. But the real weak point in that is certainly redistricting,” said John Hibbing, a political science professor at UNL.

This year, it's especially difficult. The main reason is the U.S. census data, which is the main basis for drawing the maps, came out in August instead of the spring due to the pandemic.

This forced the Unicameral into a two-week special session to redistrict, a process that in the past has taken months.

"It's a lot of work that has to happen in a very short timeline,” said Josie Schafer.

Schafer, the director for UNO’s Center for Public Affairs, says the reason the Unicameral needs to pass new maps quickly is that they're not the only ones that need to redistrict before 2022.

County boards, city councils, school boards, and other local governments use that data to draw their own maps.

"It's not that we have to match their boundaries but we want to be considerate of their boundaries to help people understand who and why they're voting and to make sure when you show at a precinct there's not multiple ballots,” said Schafer.

So far, the Republicans have pushed for a vote on two maps, a congressional map that splits Douglas County and a legislative map that Democrats and a few Republicans don't like for a variety of reasons.

So Democrats successfully filibustered both, leading Hilgers to his statement Tuesday.

"I'm sure part of his motivation is to put a little bit more pressure on and say, 'Here's the alternative and the alternative is not very good so please get to a solution now,'” said Hibbing.

Former Mayor and Congressman Hal Daub urges the Unicameral, specifically Democrats, to come to the table and compromise. He suggests that if maps aren't passed, a lawsuit could potentially come from a candidate who can't file because they don't know what district they're in.

"Could go to federal court to ask the court to draw the lines and that may be some of what's in the minds of some of the folks in the Omaha-Douglas County area,” said Daub.

Evnen says that he "would encourage the legislature in the strongest possible terms to complete their work this week,” because he doesn't want to postpone the primary.

Senator John McCollister, a Republican who sides with Democrats on redistricting, says he'd rather go back in January than pass an unfair map.

"I almost claim that no map is better than a bad map. Given the fact you only do this every 10 years, you need to do it right,” said McCollister.

McCollister has pushed for a redistricting commission like Iowa uses, in which a non-partisan body draws the maps themselves. That was actually passed in 2016 but vetoed by Governor Pete Ricketts.

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