‘Doesn’t pass the smell test’: Our testimony on proposed new districts

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Civic Nebraska Director of Public Policy Westin Miller delivered the following testimony to the Nebraska Legislature's Redistricting Committee at the Scott Conference Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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One of Civic Nebraska’s driving concerns in all elections and voting rights conversations is the public’s trust in our process. All of you and many of us in this room spend an unhealthy amount of time dealing with the little details and nuances that make legislation what it is, but the vast majority of Nebraskans have their opinions about government shaped by first impressions. A smell test: Does this “feel wrong”?

Westin Miller

And that’s why I wanted to specifically address LB1, the Congressional map that divides Douglas County. Now, I don’t for a second believe that legislation has to be super easy to understand in order to be good. Sometimes lots of explanations and education is what’s required.

A great example is the challenges you’re facing with the legislative maps. Sen. Wayne and Sen. Brewer continue to ask a really important question – “If not this district, then what?” A great example of an issue that, with all due respect to Sen. Erdman, is not simple and does require a lot of explanation. But that is not the case with our Congressional maps.

The same question here, “If not splitting up Douglas County, then what?” is easy to answer. Just don’t do it. Douglas County has the population to be, I think, 87 or 88 percent of its own district. The rules that you yourselves adopted in LR134 say you will follow county lines whenever practicable, but more importantly, dividing Nebraska’s largest county when you don’t have to doesn’t pass the smell test.

When many of us see the legislative maps, we think “Wow, that looks complicated.” When we see this Congressional map, we think “Wow, that looks wrong.”

“Why are they dividing Douglas County?” is one of the few questions in my job that I’m simply unable to answer without wading into partisan conjecture because we have been offered no public policy rationale for this move. So if there is one, I think it would be really helpful to me and to many of us to hear it.

And if there’s not, I hope you’ll consider leaving Douglas County whole when there is simply no reason to divide it. Thanks to those of you who have been using your office to promote transparency in this process, and I hope you’ll all do everything you can to keep your constituents informed not just about what is happening, but why.

Thanks for your time.

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