Arizona Redistricting Commission gives final certification to new election maps
Arizona’s new congressional and legislative maps are on their way to the Secretary of State’s Office, the final step required to enshrine them as the official districts that the state will use through the 2030 election.
In one last split vote, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission certified the new legislative map on a 3-2 vote on Friday, with the two Democratic members dissenting. Once she receives the maps, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs will send them to the counties so election officials can update their voter registration information to incorporate the new districts.
“It is my sincere hope that these maps will encourage the best and the brightest in our state to run for these new districts and really serve Arizonans as I believe they deserve,” Erika Neuberg, the commission’s independent chairwoman, said at the conclusion of Friday’s meeting.
The commission certified the new congressional map on Tuesday, but had to halt the meeting before doing the same with the legislative districts due to Neuberg’s unexpected absence.. Neuberg explained on Friday that she left the meeting due to a “medical incident beyond my control,” which she described to the Arizona Mirror as a reaction to new blood pressure medication. On the advice of legal counsel, the commission also reaffirmed its vote to certify the congressional map.
Tuesday’s meeting featured a series of accusations and responses between Neuberg, Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner and Republican Commissioner David Mehl. Mehl and Neuberg accused Lerner of taking direction from outside Democratic groups, and Lerner leveled a similar charge at Mehl regarding outside Republicans.
Neuberg also accused Lerner of making disingenuous arguments about the constitutionality of the congressional map, which she supported in December in a vote that she now says she regrets, and of “moving the goalposts” on inconsistent measurements to determine whether a proposed district was competitive.
Lerner said she was taken aback by personal attacks against her by Mehl and Neuberg.
“I feel that there were personal attacks on my integrity. We’re colleagues, and I feel that we should be respectful toward each other,” Lerner said. “Differences of opinion are just that. We may see the world differently, but I don’t feel that’s a reason for some of these accusations and what I see as inappropriate language.”
Responding to Neuberg’s claim that she was receiving instructions from Democratic interests during the deliberations over the maps, which the chairwoman described as the sixth person in the discussion, Lerner said they should be honest and admit that most of the commissioners were getting input from outside groups. She didn’t deny communicating with outside Democrats, but denied being directed to do anything by anyone.
“You said I was being directed by Democrats and there was a sixth person in the room. Let’s add the seventh and eighth person,” Lerner said.
Mehl and fellow Republican Doug York were also on their phones constantly during the meetings and frequently had phone conversations during breaks, Lerner said, accusing them of communicating with state and national Republican figures. And Neuberg, she said, regularly conferred with Executive Director Brian Schmitt, a former chief of staff to a Republican member of the Phoenix City Council and who aided GOP U.S. Sen. Martha McSally’s 2020 campaign.
“So, let’s be honest, all of us be honest. We all had people talking to us. It’s our decisions who we listen to and who we don’t. But don’t accuse me of something that you and the Republicans were also doing,” Lerner told Neuberg.
Lerner also said Neuberg thanked their Republican colleagues but didn’t acknowledge her efforts to compromise. Her opposition to the legislative map, Lerner said, stemmed from actions by Mehl and York “that were so clearly for partisan gain that they violated my sense of fairness,” such as moving lines to increase districts’ partisan spreads or to benefit incumbent lawmakers. On at least two occasions, the Republican commissioners proposed minor changes that moved sitting GOP legislators into more favorable districts.
Neuberg criticized Lerner on Tuesday for saying she wanted a legislative map in which Arizona’s 30 legislative districts were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, ignoring the GOP’s slight partisan advantage among the state’s electorate. Lerner said that it was the wrong thing to say, but said the statement was a response to Mehl telling her he wanted a 17-13 or 18-12 map.
Lerner acknowledged that Republicans outnumber Democrats in voter registration, but said Arizona is split roughly evenly between the two parties and independents. For that reason, she said, she wanted as many competitive districts as possible.
The final map has 13 Republican districts, 12 Democratic ones and five that would be considered competitive under the metrics used by the AIRC. Four of those five competitive districts lean toward the GOP.
York noted that the Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the commission’s legislative map a “B” grade. The anti-gerrymandering group’s final report card gave the congressional map a “C.”
Neuberg told Lerner that her comments weren’t intended as personal attacks.
“I am sorry if my words hurt anybody. I did try to avoid ad hominem attacks and really focus on facts and behavior that I felt were relevant to doing what I feel is my responsibility, which is to vigorously defend the legitimacy and constitutionality of our process and our maps. So, I felt that my comments were all given with that intention in mind,” she said.
Responding to Lerner’s remarks that she proposed four alternatives to the proposed legislative District 2 on the final day of deliberations, all of which were rejected by Mehl and York, and which Neuberg didn’t support either, the chairwoman said she “felt that I needed to value and put the integrity of the maps first above simply compromise. And there wasn’t an alternative that I felt better captured our state.”
“So, I felt that it was more important for me to honor what I feel is right for Arizona than make compromises that maybe would make me feel good or look good or whatever. It was a very, very tough decision, and I wish I could’ve satisfied more people in our state,” Neuberg said.
Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman also objected to what he viewed as personal attacks, but added that he appreciated the attention the AIRC paid to Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes. Watchman, a member of the Navajo Nation, said his role on the commission was to represent the state’s Indigineous communities.
“My vote is still a no for principal reasons,” Watchman said of the legislative map, “but I do appreciate the recognition and positive consideration for the tribes.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.