New redistricting maps passed initial voting Sept. 24 after much debate. Redistricting began on Aug. 30 with a legislative special session Sept. 13. Senators reconvened Sept. 28 to finalize maps. The process must be completed by Sept. 30, when the special session ends.
Redistricting refers to the process of redrawing the lines of political districts based on population shifts. The process is done every 10 years after the census is released. State legislatures control redistricting, with partisanship becoming an issue because the party in the majority is usually able to control the process. Nebraska’s legislature is nonpartisan.
From Sept. 14-16, the redistricting committee held three hearings to get the public’s opinion on redistricting proposals. Two proposals, LB1 and LB2, were put forward by Sens. Lou Ann Linehan and Justin Wayne of Omaha, respectively. The centerpiece of these plans was Nebraska’s second congressional district, which includes Douglas County and most of Sarpy County.
The second congressional district is considered as a swing district in congressional races. Furthermore, Nebraska is one of two states to split up electoral votes by congressional districts in presidential elections. Nebraska’s second district gave Democratic candidate Joe Biden one electoral vote in the 2020 election.
Linehan’s proposal splits Douglas County in half while also including all of both Saunders and Sarpy counties. Wayne’s proposal keeps Douglas County, included the city of Bellevue and excluded the rest of Sarpy.
“I believe Douglas County being whole must happen and must remain,” Wayne said at a redistricting committee hearing on Sept. 15.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln’s District 46 said he thought the Wayne map was the best for the state.
“I think the districts are more fair, I think they’re more compact and contiguous, and I think they’re more representative of the overall population of the state of Nebraska,” he said.
Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, representing District 36, criticized both the Wayne and Linehan maps, and is urging compromise between the two proposals.
“So, when I look at it, there’s other solutions that could compromise that and not look so drastic. You can certainly make an argument that the Linehan map is designed to be highly partisan and helps the Republican Party,” Williams said. “You can make the same argument about the Wayne map, the other way. And to me, somehow, we need to balance that and recognize and stay along established boundary lines of some kind.”
Linehan’s redistricting map was introduced by the committee and floor debate began Sept. 17. On Sept. 20, the map was filibustered by the Legislature. This means the senate could not get 33 of the 49 senators to support the bill. With the bill shot down, senators began reaching across the aisle and introduced the current map.
The updated proposal keeps Douglas County whole while also including Saunders County in the second district, taking in elements from the Wayne and Linehan maps respectively. The map was made possible due to compromise.
Williams said he is devoted to the idea of compromise and hopes the legislative body can always work together.
“I learned long ago, and I was told by a very bright guy when I joined the Legislature, seven years ago now, that democracy only works when you’re willing to engage in thoughtful compromise. Nobody’s got all the answers, on the left side of the room or the right side of the room. So, try to find some common elevation and work from there,” Williams said.
Williams was also a proponent for a bill that would’ve added one more senator, expanding the Legislature from 49 to 50. He introduced the bill alongside Sens. Mark Kolterman of Seward and John Stinner of Gering.
Williams said the extra seat would be in the Gretna or Elkhorn area, as they seem to be the fastest growing areas in the state. The extra seat is designed to balance out the rural parts of the state with the rapidly growing urban parts.
“We have an increasing problem right now, with fewer representatives from the rural areas of our state,” Williams said. “It wouldn’t add an additional rural senator; it would protect from potentially losing another rural senator.”
Morfeld was against this bill.
“I think that the number of senators that we have right now is reasonable, and we simply need to apportion them correctly and fairly,” he said.
The bill failed to advance for floor debate because the special session was only called for redrawing districts.