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By Steve Erdman
Neb. 47th District 

Straight Talk From Steve: Redistricting

 

September 29, 2021 | View PDF

Once every 10 years the Nebraska State Legislature must create new district maps for all of our State elected officials. This process is known as redistricting.

The Nebraska State Senators have been meeting in a special session since September 13th redrawing district lines for the United States Congress, the State Legislature, the State Supreme Court, the University of Nebraska Regents, the Public Service Commission, and the State Board of Education.

By far, the most controversial map concerns the State Legislature. The State’s legislative districts have become the most controversial maps for several reasons; however, most of these reasons center on the rural versus urban divide that exists in our State.

As populations in rural Nebraska continue to decline while populations in Nebraska’s urban centers continue to increase, the rural versus urban divide only widens. Moreover, politicians in these metropolitan areas seldom understand and appreciate the issues that confront rural Nebraskans.

In 1964 the United State Supreme Court ruled in the case of Wesberry v. Sanders that districts for the United States House of Representatives must be approximately equal in population. The U.S. Constitution had stipulated that these districts must be apportioned by population, but it had not explicitly stated that these districts had to be equal in size.

What followed was a series of court cases, especially Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which applied the same principle to state legislatures. This principle has become known as the “one person, one vote” rule, and it means that Nebraska’s legislative districts must all be comparatively equal in population.

The “one person, one vote” rule effectively started a political time bomb ticking in rural America. Because America’s urban population centers tend to grow at a much faster pace than rural areas, the balance of power naturally shifts to America’s urban centers over time. Making matters worse is the fact that rural Nebraska has been declining in population, instead of growing in population.

In the interest of preserving a voice for rural Nebraskans in the Unicameral Legislature, I advised the redistricting committee early on about how they should go about redrawing the district lines. Because each new legislative district must now comprise 40,000 residents plus or minus a 5 percent deviation, the common sense solution would be to divide the 1,098,000 people in Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties by the 27 districts they now have.

That would give each urban district 40,666 people, and for the remaining 22 rural districts each would have 39,181 people per district. The urban districts would be .0165 percent above the 40,000 mark while the rural districts would be .02 percent below it. Problem solved. All of the current legislative districts would have remained intact and rural Nebraska would have maintained its current level of representation. 

A very good map was developed Sen. Robert Clements and Sen. Bruce Bostelman which did exactly that. However, the redistricting committee wouldn’t even consider their map even though 29 senators had voiced their opinion that it was the map of their choice. 

Last week our rural Senators finally gave in to the urban Senators and passed a legislative map by a vote of 43-5 which favors these urban centers in eastern Nebraska. Rural Nebraska has now lost one whole district.

The new map splits up legislative district 36, comprised of Custer County and Dawson County, and moves those counties into legislative district 43, and then it creates a new legislative district in Sarpy County, giving the greater Omaha metropolitan area yet another voice in the Unicameral Legislature. This means that rural Nebraskans will be even less represented in the State Legislature beginning in the year 2023.

Knowing that rural Nebraskans were set to lose another voice in the Unicameral Legislature, I voted against this new legislative district map. It saddens me greatly to see rural Nebraskans lose more representation in the State Legislature when we didn’t need to.

I understand that I represent all Nebraskans, but I am also committed to doing whatever I can to preserve our rural voices in the State Legislature!

 

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