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Nebraska Redistricting Committee advances map splitting Douglas County

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 9:58 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska’s Redistricting Committee held its third public hearing Thursday for Dist. 1 in Omaha before voting in favor of the proposal that splits Douglas County.

State Sen. Carol Blood said one thing seemed clear from Thursday’s testimony: many people are opposed to splitting Douglas or Sarpy counties.

A number of speakers shared frustration with the plan to split Douglas County in two, questioning the motivations of those behind it.

“This redistricting process has the danger of rebirthing gerrymandering once again in Nebraska — attempting to restrict the votes of Blacks and people of color whether intentional or unintentional,” said Preston Love Jr of Omaha.

The Unicameral is set to debate the proposals on the legislative floor Friday. Blood said she was planning an amendment that would keep Douglas and Sarpy counties whole and in separate Congressional districts, then figure out the rest of the map in Lincoln.

Following Thursday’s hearing, the committee voted 5-4 to go forward with the map proposed by chairwoman and State Sen. Lu Ann Linehan, according to committee member and State Sen. Adam Morfeld. He said he cast a dissenting vote along with State Sens. Carol Blood, Steve Lathrop, and Justin Wayne. State Sens. Tom Briese, Tom Brewer, Suzanne Geist, and John Lowe make up the rest of the committee.

Every 10 years brings the Census. Not surprising, Nebraska’s population grew a bunch in the eastern part of the state this past decade and fell dramatically — down about 53,000 people — in rural parts of the state.

Because of that, lawmakers have to redraw the maps and try to get a similar number of people in each district.

Thursday’s hearing took place in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Scott Conference Center, located at 6450 Pine St. Many voters who packed the room were interested in one thing: preserving Nebraska’s “blue dot” — that one electoral vote in Douglas County that twice voted for the Democrat voting for president in a predominantly red state.

A full crowd was in attendance at the third public hearing of the Nebraska Redistricting...
A full crowd was in attendance at the third public hearing of the Nebraska Redistricting Committee on Thursday, Sept. 16, in Omaha.(Roger Hamer / WOWT)

“There’s a large African-American, Black population in Omaha, which is currently whole in the 2nd District. It should remain whole to avoid diluting our voters’ voices,” said Precious McKesson of Omaha, who was the literal representation of the blue-dot vote, casting Nebraska’s one electoral vote for President Biden.

But the map drawn by Linehan’s team would split Douglas County in two, combining the northwest part of the county into another Congressional district with rural counties. And Sarpy County wouldn’t be split at all.

“It’s is necessary to split counties to keep the one person, one vote principle,” said the state senator from Elkhorn.

Wayne, who represents Omaha, completely disagrees.

“I believe any map that splits Douglas County is a gross violation of preserving our core and interests,” he said.

His team came up with a map that keeps Douglas County as it is — in Dist. 2 — but adds population by cutting up parts of Sarpy County.

But some argued that independents — make up one of every four registered voters in the district as it exists now — are getting overlooked.

“Do only Nebraskans who matter in a red camp or blue camp? If so, the process discounts a growing number of Nebraska voters,” Rebecca Schnabel said.

The first of three district hearings was conducted Tuesday in Grand Island, in Dist. 3, with many residents from legislative Dist. 44 insisting on keeping the rural legislative district intact. They also expressed their support for keeping the district as far west as possible, to “make sure their interests are represented.”

Contentious debate continued Wednesday at the Capitol as the Dist. 2 hearing touched on differing opinions about how they believe the map should be redrawn for Sarpy County.

The proposal will go before the full legislature on Thursday.

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