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The census and districting

The census and districting

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Every ten years the United States Constitution requires a census be done. The year following the federal census, the Nebraska Constitution requires legislative districts be redrawn to account for the changes in population. Right now we have forty-nine state senators. The constitution says we can have fifty, but there is no appetite for adding another senator right now.

Before the 1964 Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims, state senate legislative districts were drawn based largely on geography. The justices concluded that state legislative districts must be drawn so that their populations are roughly equal. In Nebraska, there are three counties that are growing rapidly. There are about fifteen or so counties that are more or less holding their own. All the rest are struggling to maintain population. As it stands right now, there are thirty-seven of the forty-nine legislative districts that are all in or contain a portion of the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan areas. This is where most of the population growth is occurring.

The process of redistricting is a simple division problem. One divides forty-nine state senators into the population of Nebraska. An odd looking polygon shape is drawn on the map that contains the number of people in the answer to this division problem. According to the US United States Census Bureau, there were 1.934 million people in Nebraska in 2019. By the time all are counted in the 2020 census, our state will have gained about 120,000 people since the last census.

After the 2010 census, about 36,000 people were needed in each legislative district like. This time the polygon drawn on the map will have to contain over 39,000 people. Most of the large rural districts have not gained over 3,000 people in population in the last ten years. Most have lost population. The legislative district map will be re-drawn to account for this. Some senators will lose their current district altogether. Some will have their district grow in size to contain the needed population. Some districts will likely be moved to a different part of the state. In the end, there will be forty-nine new legislative districts. Some will look about the same, others will not.

My district (43) is already the largest district in the State. To put it in perspective, Sen. Megan Hunt’s district is six and half square miles in midtown Omaha. The 43rd District is seventeen thousand square miles. It is already bigger than a number of states and a third of the world’s nations, but it will have to grow even larger. To do that, neighboring districts will have to be dissolved and absorbed into others.

It is important we get this right because Nebraskans will live with the results for the next ten years until the 2030 census. The redistricting math problem is easy. The political process to make it happen is not. I promise to stand guard to make sure that rural Nebraskans are fairly represented no matter what.

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