Angered by lawmakers’ takeover of the top Democratic posts in the Clark County Board of Commissioners, Republicans pushed a proposal to lock up those so-called “prison gerrymanders” — highly gerrymandered electoral maps — and limit the power of county commissioners.
But the bill, which is in its final stages of consideration in the Nevada legislature, faces an uncertain future. Republican leaders have begun crafting a separate proposal that would restructure the county commissioners after the 2020 election in order to turn the elections over to the state, which is under control of Democrats.
Under the current state law, Clark County alone retains control of setting its electoral districts, an arrangement that has contributed to decades of partisan polarization on the county commission. Democrats make up about 70 percent of the county’s voters, but Republicans hold a majority of the five-member commission.
Democrats used that advantage in Nevada’s 2016 elections to place Rebecca Lockhart, a Republican, as the county’s first female and African-American elected official. But Democrats, responding to the ongoing investigations into ties between the Trump White House and the president’s ex-lawyer, have taken aim at the district that Ms. Lockhart represents.
Republicans had proposed legislation that would have locked down Ms. Lockhart’s district with a different line, with the goal of putting Republicans in charge of the county’s commission for the next 10 years. And even if the commission passed that bill, it would still not have stopped the current state investigation into the county’s partisan districts.
The Republicans are hoping to at least curtail the power of the county commission after 2020. That raises questions about how voters will respond to a commission that does not have a voice in the debate over the local electoral maps, which the state constitution only mentions in a sentence in which it authorizes the elections to be decided by the state.
But other Democrats in Nevada are leery of the proposal. The battle lines are already drawn in the statehouse, where Republicans are eager to take power away from the county commission.
“We will pass this bill in two minutes if you put it on my desk and I make it law,” said Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R), after Republicans gained a supermajority in the state legislature during the 2018 midterm elections.
The Republican plan differs from the Democratic proposal in several key respects. It would create a bipartisan commission to select party electors for the state legislature, a move Democrats say is designed to dilute the power of rural voters.
To end the state investigation into the county’s partisan lines, Democrats would have to get majority-vote approval in the Nevada Supreme Court. But if Republicans propose their own bill, the Democrats may be unable to pass it in the state assembly, which is currently controlled by Republicans.
While Democrats like Ms. Lockhart are trying to tackle the root of the problem by improving how legislative elections are conducted, they still face trouble in the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, 7-2.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Government and Consumer Affairs, Democrat Steve Horsford, is one of the committee’s two Democratic members. He expressed concern in a letter to his Republican colleagues that the proposed legislation, as written, could have negative consequences for Nevada’s progress toward becoming a national leader in voting rights.
“I am not unfamiliar with legislative and executive abuses of process in other states,” Mr. Horsford wrote. “The harm would be real, present and widespread for an elected state representative here in Nevada.”
He went on to express his concern that putting such power in a new commission — which may be split evenly on partisan lines — may be a recipe for gridlock.
If the new commission sits at 20 percent Republican, as planned, the commissioners might consider passing legislation that would require a supermajority of 33 votes to pass such a bill, rather than just a simple majority of 15.