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Ensuring Voter Access Within NE's New District Lines

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Thursday, March 10, 2022   

Nebraska voters may be casting ballots at unfamiliar polling sites for the upcoming midterm elections after the Nebraska Legislature established new district maps, which have recently come under scrutiny.

Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska, said politicians worked to ensure rural areas maintained seats that could have gone to urban areas seeing the greatest population growth, according to the 2020 census.

"And the way that was accomplished was by spreading out those rural districts, and putting fewer voters in those districts," Geis explained. "And then packing as many urban voters together as they could get away with."

The majority of Nebraska's communities of color reside in the state's urban centers. Recent independent analysis by two Nebraska mathematics professors found several flaws in the final maps.

Of the 15 overpopulated districts, 13 were in Lincoln or Omaha. Geis noted the variance in population distribution was kept under 5%, the legal limit.

Common Cause and other groups will be working to ensure Nebraskans voting in new districts for the first time can cast ballots. Geis added volunteers will be on-site on Election Day to make sure people are in the right polling place.

"And I think a big part of this year will be helping direct people who may have showed up at the wrong place," Geis stressed, "Assuming 'this is where I always voted,' only to find out that it shifted because those lines have shifted."

Geis pointed out his group and others also will continue efforts to create an independent commission to draw the once-a-decade maps after the next census. Under the current system, politicians who stand to benefit directly from how districts are drawn essentially create maps behind closed doors.

"With a citizen's commission, there would be more direct engagement with people," Geis emphasized. "And just that additional level of accountability to what people in communities want, versus what politicians want their districts to look like."


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