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Redistricting commission hopes to make the most out of census data delay

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is trying to look at the bright side of an expected months-long delay in the census data that is needed before they can do their job of drawing the state’s new congressional and legislative districts.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last month that the data won’t be available until at least the end of September, which will put the AIRC well behind the pace set by its predecessors in 2001 and 2011. But commission Chairwoman Erika Neuberg said at Tuesday’s AIRC meeting that the delay could provide an opportunity for the commission to travel the state and meet with the public to find out more about Arizona’s population, its communities of interest and people’s thoughts about what has and hasn’t worked in previous redistricting processes.

“I’m optimistic. I think there’s a silver lining in all this, and that is that without the pressures of actually having the specific maps, the amount of learning and listening, and the amount of collaborative work that we can collectively do, I’m excited by that,” Neuberg told her colleagues on Tuesday.

Neuberg said there may at least be some preliminary mapping the commission can do based on data that’s already available to the state, which goes back to 2018. However, she also warned that they shouldn’t become too wedded to any ideas or lines based on that preliminary data, because it could change significantly.

“We don’t want to predetermine things. Psychologically, if you wedge yourself to what you think is going to be the data and it ends up not being the right data, it can pose problems,” she said.

Commissioner Doug York was hopeful that state lawsuits against the Census Bureau could speed up the timeline, as well. Ohio sued the Census Bureau last week, urging a federal judge to restore the March 31 deadline in federal law for the data to be turned over to the states.

Arizona has fewer time constraints than other states due to a relatively late primary election, Neuberg noted. The state’s primary isn’t until Aug. 2, 2022, and the deadline for candidates to submit nominating petitions to get their names on the ballot is April 4. Neuberg also pointed out that the legislature is considering legislation that would allow candidates to collect signatures in either their old or new districts, which is commonplace during redistricting years.

Neuberg said the commission won’t be able to make any specific plans until it hires its full team, especially its legal counsel and mapping consultants. And the commission decided to delay those decisions a little at Tuesday’s meeting.

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The commission has received 42 applications for its executive director position, the top staffer who will help guide the AIRC through the redistricting process. The commissioners plan to narrow that list down to about five finalists at its next meeting on March 9, and conduct interviews the following week.

With the hiring decision on an executive director being pushed back, the commissioners decided to extend the timeline for other hires. The deadline for legal counsel to apply was extended by one week, to March 19, and the deadline for mapping consultants by two weeks, to March 26.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Congressional districts in the state of Arizona, reflecting district boundaries current to the 113th United States Congress.