As public, litigators argue over Voting Rights Act meaning, district court will determine how big taxpayers’ bill will be
LAS VEGAS — Several members of the public apologized to the special masters at Monday’s redistricting hearing, over the need for the masters to take up what was, constitutionally, the Legislature’s chore.
In the end, however, the Legislature may need to apologize to the public.
That’s because regardless of how the final maps turn out, Nevada taxpayers are going to pay the bill for redistricting overtime, according to Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson.
Benson told Nevada Journal that the masters will be responsible for tracking their own hours and a “per hour” rate hasn’t been established because the rate, much like the redistricting process itself, will be finalized in the First District Court. Both legal parties will have the chance to weigh in on the proposed rate before Judge James Todd Russell issues a final order.
“We know taxpayers want to know where their money is going, so we want everything tracked and accounted,” said Benson.
According to the deputy attorney general, the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will be responsible for paying the masters. Given the legal process, said Benson, he was skeptical about the committee allocating pay by Dec. 15, its final meeting of the year.
“There are several questions we’ll have to answer before they’re paid,” Benson said.
One question concerns the role of special master Alan Glover, who is the Carson City Clerk. Since Glover is already a public employee, he’ll be receiving a second taxpayer-funded paycheck, unless the court says differently.
Another question is the length of the redistricting process. Thomas Sheets, a special master and acting chair of the public hearings, hinted that the masters could start work on the maps this evening, after their public hearing today in Carson City.
However, with the recent Supreme Court order indicating the high court’s possible intervention, as well as possible legal challenges from both parties, the masters’ redistricting activities could linger into the holiday season.
“Obviously, all of us want to draw maps that’ll avoid legal challenges,” Sheets said during the hearing. “We’re taking every testimony into careful consideration — and we have a lot of testimonies — so every option is on our table.”
The issue that could cause the masters to clock long hours is determining whether Nevada requires a Hispanic majority-minority congressional district. During the hearing, legal teams from the Democrat and Republican parties presented their views, while over a dozen citizens testified on the issue.
“If [special masters] intentionally create a majority-minority district, it would be unconstitutional,” said Kevin Hamilton, attorney for the Democratic Party, during the hearing. “Nevada isn’t Mississippi or Texas, and has no history of official discrimination.”
The Democrat attorneys argued the Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) in the Republican-drawn majority-minority district wasn’t above 50 percent, and that CVAP should be the measuring stick when drawing the districts.
The Republican legal team countered that the Hispanic population is an “easily defined and geographically compact group,” and claimed CVAP should be disregarded because the Census didn’t ask individuals about citizenship, meaning CVAP numbers are skewed.
“No one raised a question about CVAP during [the legislative] session but suddenly it’s an issue,” said Ryan Selsow, a redistricting director who testified on behalf of the Republicans. “I’d be uncomfortable drawing numbers based on data I don’t know where it came from.”
Hispanics who testified were split on the majority-minority district.
Alex Garza, a Las Vegas resident who has also filed a lawsuit in District Court, said if anyone doesn’t believe Hispanics are a community of interest, “I’ll take them in my car and drive them around and show them.”
“I support their [Republican] maps, and I think they’d lead to more turnout of Latinos,” Garza said during the hearing.
Vincenta Montoya, who identified herself as an “activist” and presented her own maps, accused the Republicans of packing Hispanics into one district.
“The political reality is most [Hispanics] are Democrats,” Montoya said during her testimony. “The Republican map looks like it’s just playing politics.”
Russell gave the masters the responsibility of determining whether a majority-minority district is valid, but as he still has final approval, he could still overrule their maps.
Russell and the masters hope to finish by October’s end, as the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments by both parties on Nov. 14.