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Redistricting: Why All the Fuss?
Background on the process and importance of deciding who votes where
by Maria Lynam
Redistricting takes place every ten years following the national census, and involves drawing election boundaries for elected offices in federal, state and local government. Congressional and state legislative districts as well as county supervisor districts and school boards must be redrawn to comply with equal population, the Voting Rights Act, respect for communities of interest, other principles and state-specific criteria.
Why should I care?
Following the addition of a new congressional district (CD) in 2002 it was long expected that Arizona would pick up one more congressional district as a result of the census, but that is not the case and we will remain at nine CDs for another decade. With the population gains in major cities and suburbs, the maps will be redrawn and it will undoubtedly be a contentious project. Both political parties have interests in these very important maps.
Ideally there should be no political bias in the maps, but the reality is that it is really about the redistribution of political power. How the lines are drawn influences who is elected, and only after redistricting do candidates know whether they are in a given district.
How big are Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts?
Delayed due to the pandemic and other issues, the official data from the US Census were released on August 12.
The data reveal that AZ now has a population of 7,151,502, giving each of our nine CDs a starting population of 794,611. Comparing the 2010 total population of 6,392,017, this is an average increase of 84,387 people per district.
Each of the 30 state legislative districts (LDs) will have a starting population of 238,383, an average increase of 25,312 for each.
Erika Neuberg chairs the current IRC.
In November 2000 Arizona voters passed a citizens initiative, Proposition 106, amending the Arizona Constitution to reassign the responsibility for drawing the state’s congressional and state legislative districts from the state legislature to the newly created Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).
The IRC’s mission is to ensure that districts reflect the results of the most recent census. The principle of one-person, one-vote dictates that districts be roughly equal in population, and the law requires respect for other factors.
The five-member commission, with no more than two members from a single political party and no more than three from a single county, draws the district boundaries. The state Democratic and Republican parties appoint two commissioners each, and those four elect the commission’s chair from a list of volunteers registered as Independents.
Appointed in late 2020 and early 2021 are Erika Neuberg as Chair (I-Scottsdale), Derrick Watchman (D–Window Rock), Shereen Lerner (D-Mesa), Douglas York (R-Phoenix) and David Mehl (R–Tucson).
How does it work?
The Arizona Constitution requires that redistricting begin with a grid map. This is an arbitrary collection of districts that have equal populations, designed for compactness and contiguity, but taking no other factors into account. In drafting the new maps, commissioners must modify the grid map to account for four constitutional criteria:
Compliance with the US Constitution and Voting Rights Act
Respect for communities of interest
Incorporation of visible geographic features, including city, town and county boundaries, as well as undivided census tracts
Creation of competitive districts where there is no significant detriment to other goals.
Once those modifications are done, the resulting drafts will bear little resemblance to the grid map.
Communities of Interest
In late July and early August the IRC scheduled meetings with citizens all over the state in what it called “listening tours,” coming to Yavapai County on July 27. The main venue was on the Prescott campus of Yavapai College, and it held two satellite sessions on the Yavapai College campus in Sedona and at Congress Elementary School.
Yavapai residents testified as to their communities with similar, non-political interests. The commission places no limit on the size of a community of interest, but it must be geographically contiguous and the interests must be likely affected by legislation, such as a community of farmers or an area with a large immigrant population. By identifying these communities, citizens are better able to advocate for themselves in their respective districts than if they are separated into two or three other districts.
In the Yavapai County sessions the two main concerns citizens voiced were to avoid including Maricopa County in our legislative district, and to respect the physical boundaries that separate the Verde Valley/Sedona area from the rest of the county. There were also some contrasting comments from those hoping to keep the county “whole."
Constitutionally, redistricting maps must be “fair and competitive,” meaning ideally that either party has a chance of winning a majority, maximizing the chance that that districts could change hands in any election. But we know that truly competitive districts are not often achievable.
So what the IRC does is look at the various draft districts statewide and determine whether there are equal numbers of districts that lean left or right.
Arizona Mirror reporter Jeremy Duda wrote that on August 17, “… the commission chose two metrics to determine competitiveness. One will use the results from state wide races over the past three election cycles to determine how close the average vote in a proposed district would have been, while the other will use those measurements to determine how often the proposed districts would have changed hands between Democrats and Republicans.
“The commission chose a ‘basket’ of statewide races from the past three election cycles: 2016, when Republicans won the only statewide races on the ballot in Arizona; 2020, when Democrats won all the statewide races; and 2018, the last time Arizona’s statewide offices were up for election, which was a mix of Democratic and Republican victories.
“The IRC excluded the ‘outlier’ races of the 2016 US Senate contest and 2018 gubernatorial contest, when Republicans John McCain and Doug Ducey notched double-digit victories. They also omitted elections for Corporation Commission because those races featured multiple seats that were up for grabs, with Democrats and Republicans putting up different numbers of candidates.”
The commission will produce the grid map by September 14, then the public has 23 days to review those lines.
It plans to complete the first drafts of its district maps by Oct. 27, followed by a constitutionally mandated 30-day public-comment period. The commissioners will then have about three weeks to make additional changes based on the comments and other input, before voting on final maps. We can look forward to additional hearings in November.
How can I be more informed and involved?
The IRC is currently scheduled to meet every Tuesday at 8 AM. At the IRC website, you can view the commission’s agendas and link to meetings on YouTube, and address the commissioners directly via a comment form. If your comment concerns an agenda item, be sure to include its number in your subject line.
The IRC publishes comments sent outside regular meetings on the website. To see them, go to Public Meetings and click on the link to select the comment period.
The link to the YouTube Live weekly meeting is found on their agenda. Go to irc.az.gov and on the home page, right hand side, there is a section titled Upcoming Public Meetings. Click on the Agenda underneath. It leads you to a PDF of the agenda, which includes the meeting information.
Watch for Jeremy Duda’s coverage of redistricting and the IRC in The Arizona Mirror (azmirror.com).
Contact email@example.com for more information (put "Redistricting" in the subject line).
The Independent Redistricting Commission's mission is to redraw Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts to reflect the results of the most recent census. Factors to be considered by the commissioners:
Federal Voting Rights Act
Respect for communities of interest
The state Constitution requires the commissioners—two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairperson— to start from scratch rather than redraw existing districts.
A new Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was appointed in January 2021 to adopt new congressional and legislative districts for Arizona.
Go here to read about the members, current status of mapping, newsletters past videos of meetings, public comments made during the meeting and presentation material from the special speakers.
Any questions or willingness to learn, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and add "Redistricting" to the subject line. Someone will contact you.