September 30, 2021 By Marion Vendituoli
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee (AIRC) has begun the work of resetting both state legislative (SLD) and congressional (CD) voting districts, a process that takes place every ten years based on updated census information. According to the AIRC website, “The concept of one-person, one-vote dictates that districts should be roughly equal in population. Other factors to be considered are the federal Voting Rights Act, district shape, geographical features, respect for communities of interest, and potential competitiveness.”
The commissioners – two Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent chairperson – start from scratch rather than redraw existing districts. The first step, which was completed on Sept. 14, is to create a grid map of the state. These first maps indicate districts of equal population and are only a starting point.
Citizens are encouraged to provide feedback on these initial maps which will undergo modifications to create the final redistricting map. The deadline for public comments on the grid map is Oct. 7. The second draft of the maps will be completed by the commissioners by Oct. 27, followed by a 30-day public comment period, during which public meetings will be held across the state. The Commission hopes to have the final maps drawn and voted on before the first of the year.
Redistricting is necessary because the U.S. Constitution mandates that all districts must have the same number of people, and those numbers can change over the course of a decade. The population of Arizona grew from 6,392,017 in 2010 to 7,151,502 in 2020, an increase of 11.88%. Most of this population growth occurred in Maricopa and Pima Counties. The 2010 census showed Santa Cruz County to have a population of 47,420. In 2020, there were 47,669 residents, for an increase of only 0.52%.
The AIRC Commissioners must draw nine Congressional Districts and 30 State Legislative Districts. “This means three Congressional Districts will have a population count of 794,612 and the remaining six districts will have 794,611…12 Legislative Districts will need to have assigned population counts of 238,384 and the remaining 18 with 238,383 to equal the Total Population,” according to the AIRC website.
Prior to 2011, Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia were part of CD8, with Cochise County. In 2011, those communities were incorporated into CD3 which includes all of Santa Cruz County, north to South Tucson and west along the border to California. Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia were part of SLD30 prior to 2011, which included Sierra Vista. In 2011, these communities were redrawn into SLD 2, which encompasses all of Santa Cruz County, goes west to the Baboquiveri Mountains and north into South Tucson.
The Redistricting Commission held a public meeting in Nogales on August 5, part of their “listening tour” across the state to hear what concerned voters have to say about where these lines might be drawn. They specifically asked for comments about communities of interest (COI) that might be grouped together in the voting districts. “This principle encourages the inclusion of like-minded communities within whole districts and discourages splitting them between districts,” according to the New York School of Law.
Matt Parilli, of Sonoita, presented his arguments for including the Sonoita Elgin area in the same district as Sierra Vista at the August 5 meeting. “While Nogales is largely an urban region and heavily invested in produce transshipment, the Sonoita /Elgin area is predominately a rural ranching and vinifera region with a high ratio of retired persons – civilian and military. In that regard, it has much more in common with the current CD2 and LD14 than it does With CD3 and LD2. Many of the residents enjoy equestrian activities and the very rural nature of our special place. Overwhelmingly, residents shop for basic needs in Sierra Vista, a thirty mile drive, as opposed to Nogales, which is a forty mile drive,” he stated.
Kat Crockett, of Elgin feels that political viewpoints should also be considered. “Many of the independents and republicans that reside in Eastern Santa Cruz County identify with more conservative values; however, our state legislature representatives for Santa Cruz County are all Democrat. Because of the small population of the area, local voters have little to no impact on the outcome of elections, making us an easy target for our legislative representatives to ignore. Conversely, all the representatives in Cochise are Republican. As such, Cochise County would align better for many on the east side as a community of interest based on political alignment.”
Residents were also able to submit comments to the IRC’s listening tour survey dashboard. 910 comments were submitted on this site, with 41 comments submitted by residents of eastern Santa Cruz County. All 27 of the comments submitted from Patagonia were against redrawing the district lines, as were all ten of the comments from Sonoita residents. The four comments from Elgin were split, with three comments against and one comment in favor of redrawing the district.
Anne Gibson, of Elgin, wrote, “This is a rural community known for its value and appreciation of landscape, agriculture, lifestyle. I am the 3rd generation native of the largest parcel of private land in the entire state. Our ranch is now into its 5th generation of stewardship. Half of our ranch is in Santa Cruz County and half is in Cochise County. My personal home is in Santa Cruz County, while our ranch headquarters is in Cochise County. I prefer the politics, the ethics, the heart and soul of Santa Cruz County. Economic development thru subdivision and mass agricultural ventures and mining are not the focus of Santa Cruz County and we like it that way.”
A Patagonia resident wrote, “The Patagonia, Sonoita, wine country of Elgin and the Sky Islands share environmental concerns and recreational resources and should be grouped together as Communities of Interest. Eco-tourism and Birding alone constitute a healthy bond throughout this area, interests not necessarily shared by nearby larger towns in Cochise County. Please keep this in mind when drawing governmental lines. To separate and disperse these communities will essentially silence these communities and shut down the financially beneficial and environmentally beneficial efforts long established here.”