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Editorial, 1/1: Redistricting must become a nonpartisan effort for state

Editorial, 1/1: Redistricting must become a nonpartisan effort for state

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The last time the Nebraska Legislature was tasked with redistricting, it botched the job mightily by allowing politics and naked partisanship to be its guiding principles.

We can only hope that our elected leaders in the officially nonpartisan body will be better at that task this year than they were in 2011.

Consider this when determining just how vital a function redistricting is: There isn't a single senator in the Nebraska Legislature likely to be seated the next time this issue comes up. And yet, the decisions made regarding redistricting will have long-term ramifications for everyone.

It's time to figure out a better way.

The process needs to be improved by taking it away from politicians and putting those responsibilities into the hands of a nonpartisan agency or commission where partisan benefit is not the factor it is today.

A handful of states have created independent nonpartisan agencies to remove from this task. Though that's easier said than done, gerrymandering -- the skewing of district boundaries for political gain -- should have no place in this formula.

Iowa provides a glorious glimpse of the way redistricting should take place everywhere. It uses an independent state office, which draws the maps strictly on terms of population, and presents them to legislators for a simple up-or-down vote. That simple process avoids the controversy that dominates in the Cornhusker State.

The Nebraska Legislature approved a bipartisan compromise in 2016, but it was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 -- as it has with nearly every component of our lives -- has thrown a banana peel into this year's redistricting process, too, as final census figures are not expected to be released until spring, when the Legislature presumably will be deep into its 2021 session.

Without the updated numbers, it's likely the Nebraska Legislature will have to wing it. The latest population figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau point to a potential redistricting shift of two legislative seats from rural Nebraska to the urban metroplex of Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties.

That would give those three counties 27 of the 49 seats in the Legislature, changing the dynamics and makeup of the Nebraska Legislature. But efforts to slow the removal of rural districts is expected -- again proving that nonpartisan aims interfere with the duty of giving Nebraskans the most accurate, responsive representation possible.

It's time to move forward with another effort toward nonpartisan redistricting. It's time to look toward other states that have found a way to navigate these turbulent waters.

Meanwhile, Nebraska lawmakers are lining up to serve on the redistricting committee. It's a powerful committee with powerful responsibility.

Turning over that responsibility to a nonpartisan agency would take the politics out of this process. It's time.

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