Rural Legislative Districts Given Outsized Influence In Redistricting According to Study

Feb. 24, 2022, 2 p.m. ·

Wide shot of the legislative chamber with desks in rows and high ceilings.
(Archive photo)

Nebraska’s new redistricting map for the state Legislature gives rural districts out-sized influence, according to a study released this week by two professors of mathematics.

Steven Dunbar is an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of the study.

He says, according to the research, Nebraska’s new map for the state legislative district regularly overpopulates “urban” districts to their detriment.

“Imagine you had 30 voters and you have two districts,” Dunbar said. “The natural way to divide up 30 voters into two districts would be 15 voters in each of the districts -makes perfectly good sense. But you could draw the line in such a way that you had 10 voters in one district and 20 voters in the other district, and those 10 voters would have much greater representation per person.”

Importantly, Dunbar notes all overpopulated districts are within the 5% population deviation allowed by the state law and so are legal. Still, he says the study paints a picture that Nebraska’s redistricting process is rushed and open to influence. He describes the adopted districts as "carefully crafted."

"I think that really captures the essence of what's going on here," Dunbar said, "The legislative districts were carefully crafted in order to, well, preserve a balance in the Legislature that currently exists (and) existed prior to 2021...some feared that balance would be upset."

Despite the study’s findings, Dunbar says the response from state senators, including those on the legislature's redistricting committee has, so far, been muted.

“I got back one acknowledgment from Senator Megan Hunt, who said 'Thank you for your report',” Dunbar said. “Other than that, I haven't heard anything.”

Dunbar hopes the study eventually paves the way for Nebraska to adopt an independent redistricting commission that can take its time contemplating the nuances of redistricting.

A link to the study can be found HERE