January 6, 2022 By Kat Crockett
Every ten years, following the census, states across the country redraw their boundaries of congressional (CD) and state legislative districts (LD).
Redrawing district lines impacts who you can vote for, where you can vote, may influence who wins elections, and ultimately who will make the laws and what laws get passed in Congress and the State Legislature.
In 2000, Proposition 106 enacted the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) and criteria for drawing new districts. Arizona is one of only 13 states with a commission to exclusively draw electoral district boundaries independent of the state legislature. Previously, the state legislature had been responsible for redrawing the new districts, but many people believed this practice resulted in boundaries that served the politicians instead of the people.
The commission is formed every ten years, drawing from a pool of 25 nominees, ten from each of the two largest parties and five from neither of the two largest parties. The State Senate President, Speaker of the House and minority leaders select the first four commissioners from the pool, then these four commissioners appoint the fifth from the pool who cannot be a member of either party already represented and who will serve as Chairperson. This year, the Commissioners were Democrats Schereen Lerner and Derrick Watchman; Republicans David Mehl and Douglas York; and Independent Chair Erika Neuberg.
The commission began the process by eliminating all existing districts established in 2010 and starting anew using a population-based grid map to allow them to play out “what if” scenarios when drawing and moving boundaries. The six criteria that guided the new mapping were, (a) equal population, (b) compactness and contiguousness, (c) compliance with the US Constitution and Voting Rights Act, (d) respect for communities of interest; (e) incorporation of visible geographic features, including city town and county boundaries as well as undivided census tracts, and (f) creation of competitive districts where there is no significant detriment to other goals. There was extensive disagreement on how different factors should be defined and weighted by the Commissioners.
On Dec. 22, 2021, after numerous public meetings, the Commission unanimously approved the Congressional District (CD) Map, creating a new CD-7, which embraces all of Santa Cruz County with some minor changes in Pima, Pinal, Maricopa and Yuma counties from the former CD-3. It also added part of the southern border of Cochise County extending east to Douglas. CD-7 is considered by the Commission to be Democratic leaning based on vote spreads in nine prior state elections averaging 68% democratic votes to 32% republican. U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D) currently represents CD-3 and has been in office since January of 2003. His position, as well as all 435 members of the US House of Representatives will be up for election on November 8, 2022. It is not clear if he will run for another term for the new district. The 2022 elections will also include the Senate seat held by Mark Kelly (D) who will seek reelection. To date, five Republicans have announced their intent to run against him.
With only the LD Map pending on the day of the last meeting of the IRC on Dec. 22, the commission began with a host of proposed changes, sensational partisan fighting, numerous accusations, and members interrupting and talking past each other. The meeting lasted well into the afternoon with little accomplished. In the end, the LD map was adopted with a vote of 3-2, both Democrats voting against the map, both Republicans voting for the map, and Neuberg breaking the tie.
The new LD Map divides Santa Cruz County into two new Districts (LD-19 and LD-21), splitting the northeast and southwest portions of the county. LD- 19 has Patagonia, Sonoita, and Elgin combined with most of Cochise, all of Greenlee and parts of Graham and Pima counties previously covered by LD-14. LD-19 is considered to be Republican leaning with a prior vote spread of 61% Republican and 39% Democrat. Within the former LD-14, State Senator Gail Griffin, and State Representatives Lupe Diaz and David Gowan are all Republicans and are subject to the elections in November.
The new LD-21 includes Nogales, Rio Rico, Tubac, Tumacacori, Kino Springs, Patagonia Lake, parts of Sahuarita and Southeast Tucson, extending east along the border to Douglas. LD-21 is considered by the Commission to be Democratic leaning. Representing the former LD-2, which embraces all of SCC, State Senator Rosanna Gabaldon, and State Representatives Daniel Hernandez and Angela Dalessandro are all Democrats who will be subject to elections this November.
This may not be the end of the journey for the IRC. During this year’s process, the Democratic representatives did not vote in favor of the Legislative District maps and made several allegations including that the Chair swayed her votes to the Republicans, that Tribal and Latino concerns were marginalized, and competitiveness was not properly weighted. It remains to be seen if the final maps will be challenged in court.