Northern Arizona's redistricting maps would solidify Republican power. That's wrong

·4 min read
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 28, 2021. From left to right: Shereen Lerner, Derrick Watchman, Erika Neuberg, David Mehl, Douglas York.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 28, 2021. From left to right: Shereen Lerner, Derrick Watchman, Erika Neuberg, David Mehl, Douglas York.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) was established by the voters in 2000 to redistricting in the hands of an independent commission with the direction to create “fair and competitive maps.”

The idea was to get away from gerrymandering where the party holding the majority in the Legislature could push its opponents’ voters into a few districts (“packing”) or divide (“crack”) those voters into many districts.

Unfortunately, the Redistricting Commission’s proposed maps pack and crack. Northern Arizona is a case in point.

80% of residents would live in a 'safe' district

Redrawing the lines of congressional and legislative districts are based on new census numbers and with the goal of creating districts of roughly equal population. They must be geographically compact and respect communities of interest, geographic features and boundary lines, while also complying with the Voting Rights Act and striving for competitiveness.

The Arizona Constitution requires the IRC to honor each of these criteria.

After receiving expert testimony, the commission chose two metrics to measure competitiveness: The average vote spread between Democratic and Republican candidates in nine recent statewide elections in the proposed district and whether a single party would have won all nine elections in the proposed district.

By the commission’s own definition, the draft maps fail to create competitive districts in 24 of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts. Fully 80% of the state’s residents would be in noncompetitive “safe” districts – discouraging participation by Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.

Why vote if one party is sure to win?

Why vote in the general election if the primary determines the winner? Of these “safe” districts, 13 are Republican and 11 Democratic, making Republican control of the Legislature highly likely for a decade.

Maps would dilute a Democratic stronghold

In northern Arizona, the relatively sparse population and partisan distribution means, understandably, that some of the four legislative districts north of Phoenix must be noncompetitive.

Nonetheless, the Redistricting Commission could create one competitive legislative district and one competitive congressional district in the north. Instead, it blew the opportunity and concocted a gerrymandering scheme under the guise of keeping Yavapai County whole.

A competitive legislative district would look a lot like the present LD 6 established by the 2011 commission, which combines the eastern third of Yavapai County (Sedona and the Verde Valley) in a district with southern Coconino County, and parts of Gila and Navajo counties.

Instead, the current Redistricting Commission made Yavapai County intact – the maps drawn in 2011 used Mingus Mountain as a natural point to divide the county – packing Democrats into a single district that includes Flagstaff and several Native American tribal lands.

Predominately Democratic Sedona is split between two safe Republican districts. This results in the Republicans gaining a safe district at the cost of a competitive one.

Furthermore, placing Flagstaff with the tribal district (Legislative District 7) reduces the likelihood of Native Americans having three representatives serving, as they do now, given that those representatives will be competing against Flagstaff Democrats.

They'd give Native Americans less of a say

In the proposed congressional map, the Redistricting Commission adds western Yavapai County to what was previously a highly competitive congressional district, transforming it into a safe Republican district and diluting the vote of 13 Native American tribes.

Previously, the east side of Yavapai County was with the highly competitive Congressional District 1, where Democrats have eked out victories, most recently with Tom O’Halleran. Western Yavapai was combined with the Colorado River counties making a safe Congressional District 4 for Republicans like Paul Gosar.

Under the commission’s proposal, O’Halleran’s seat is absorbed into a newly drawn noncompetitive Republican congressional district while the Colorado River District expands into Maricopa County to preserve a safe Republican seat.

There is a cost to this scheme of keeping Yavapai County whole: The draft maps take away one of the county’s congressional representatives and three of its legislators, reducing its voice in Congress and the Legislature. But the county’s sacrifice solidifies Republican majorities in the Legislature for the next 10 years and unseats a popular, moderate Democratic congressman.

Yavapai County is the focus. Rethink the lines

Republicans rounded up support in the making of the draft maps based on a disinformation campaign. They asserted that splitting Yavapai County into two districts, as it has been for the last 10 years, is wrong because the county provides countywide services such as libraries, a community college, a sheriff and building codes, and everyone pays property taxes in Prescott.

Many of the speakers seemed to think the commission was redrawing their county boundary instead of congressional and legislative districts.

Whether there are competitive districts in northern Arizona or not, Prescott and the quad cities of Yavapai County will be in Republican-dominated districts.

Let’s hope the independent chair of our Redistricting Commission follows the direction of the voters and the constitutional requirement to create fair and competitive maps. Properly redrawing the lines in northern Arizona is a step in that direction.

Ann Heitland, a retired attorney and real estate agent, is chair of Coconino County Democratic Party and senior vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. Her opinions are not on behalf of either groups. On Twitter: @annheitland.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona redistricting maps solidify Republicans' power. That's wrong

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