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Voter Map Initiative Going Forward During Health Emergency

A current initiative gathering signatures for the November ballot would ban lobbyists, elected officials, party leaders, current and former political candidates or their family members from serving on independent citizens commission charged with redrawing voting district maps. (Pixabay)
A current initiative gathering signatures for the November ballot would ban lobbyists, elected officials, party leaders, current and former political candidates or their family members from serving on independent citizens commission charged with redrawing voting district maps. (Pixabay)
May 28, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The COVID-19 health emergency has created new challenges for proponents of a ballot initiative that aims to put an independent citizens commission in charge of drawing voting district maps.

With people avoiding contact at grocery stores, and big gatherings postponed indefinitely, Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska, says getting the nearly 121,000 signatures required to make the November ballot hasn't been easy.

But Geis says a coalition is pressing ahead with efforts to stop lawmakers from being able to cherry pick voters.

"The current process is backward," he points out. "When elected officials are in charge of how these maps are drawn, they get to choose their voters, and voters lose their power to effectively elect the people they believe in."

If passed by voters, the proposal would create a nine-person independent citizens commission to oversee the redrawing of district maps.

Defenders of the current system argue that a separate commission would risk further politicizing and corrupting redistricting efforts, and say if voters don't like how elected officials draw maps, they can be removed from office.

Geis says when lawmakers from majority parties get to draw maps, they can line up neighborhoods that tend to vote red or blue, which makes districts safer for incumbents and puts minority-party candidates at a disadvantage. Geis disagrees that elections are an effective tool for doing away with biased maps.

"Even if we vote out a terrible group of legislators who drew horrendously biased maps, it really won't affect those maps," he states. "We'll all have to continue voting in those districts for a decade."

Geis says the coalition behind the measure, Nebraskans for Independent Redistricting, has made health and safety the top priority during the signature drive, pivoting to social media to increase awareness.

Some states are getting creative to help voters make their voices heard. Registered voters in Oregon can print signature forms, sign with their own pen, and mail their signature directly to the secretary of state.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE