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Arizona Redistricting Commission approves starting template for new election maps

They'll change dramatically and give no real indication what the final lines will look like, but the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has taken the first step toward redrawing the state's congressional and legislative districts with the approval of a "grid map" that will serve as its starting template.

Grid maps allow the commission to wipe the old maps clean and start from scratch to ensure that the new districts aren't in any way based on the old ones. The commission's consultants created two maps of nine and 30 districts based solely on equal population, which is one of the six criteria the Arizona Constitution mandates for redistricting, and using whole census blocks and tracts.

The AIRC approved the congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday. From there, the commissioners will hold a series of public hearings, then adjust the boundaries of the grid map districts to follow the other five criteria, which require adherence to the 1965 Voting Rights Act; compact and contiguous districts; respect for geographic and political boundaries; respect for communities of interest; and competitiveness.

Though no real information on partisan advantages or other features of the districts can be gleaned from the grid maps, they mark an important milestone in the life of the current redistricting commission. The AIRC's work has been set back by a delay in the 2020 Census data it needs to draw new lines. With the adoption of the grid maps, the commission can finally begin its real work.

"The grid map is intentionally designed to be massively revised. That's how the constitution sets it up," Doug Johnson, one of the commission's mapping consultants, explained during Tuesday's meetings.

Commission Chairwoman Erika Neuberg also warned against reading too much into the grid maps.

"Let's refrain from commenting on the substance of the lines since that is what we will be doing in subsequent weeks," she said.

Comparisons of the grid maps and final maps adopted by the previous AIRC in 2011 show some similarities, but not many. For example, the boundaries of legislative District 14, which includes Cochise County and surrounding areas, roughly followed the grid map, while most other legislative districts deviated significantly from the original template. The rough geographic location of some congressional districts in the Phoenix metro area continued into the final map, but the boundaries ultimately bore little resemblance to the grid.

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Both of the new grid maps began at a centralized point in the state known as the township meridian, which is located at the intersection of 19th Avenue, Grand Avenue and McDowell Road, just north of the state Capitol in Phoenix. From there, the commission's consultants went clockwise around the state, dividing into four quadrants, and then into the nine congressional districts and 30 legislative districts.

The commission's next step will be to get public input on the grid maps that will help guide its decisions in how to revise them. The AIRC will hold five meetings in the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas, with satellite locations around the state.

The locations and dates of those meetings are:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Mesa, with satellite locations in Yuma and Window Rock
  • Thursday, Sept. 23, in Scottsdale, with satellite locations in Casa Grande and Sierra Vista
  • Saturday, Sept. 25, in Phoenix, with a satellite location in Prescott
  • Wednesday, Sept. 29, in Scottsdale, with a satellite location in Tucson
  • Thursday, Oct. 7, in Surprise, with satellite locations in Flagstaff, San Luis and Kayenta

The input that the commission receives from the public, as well as the decisions the individual commissioners make on how to apply the six constitutional criteria, will be used to draw draft maps that the AIRC hopes to approve by Oct. 27. Johnson advised the commissioners that it's important to create a clear record of how each adjustment to the maps is tied to those criteria.

Members of the public will be able to draw their own proposed maps, or individual districts, to present to the commission using a mapping program on the AIRC's website. The AIRC took a similar approach over the summer during its 17-day listening tour with a program that allowed people to map out their communities of interest, a wide-ranging concept used to describe a group of people with similar interests or needs.

One thing to keep in mind when adjusting the grid map, Johnson advised the AIRC, is the way changes to one district affect other districts, a process he referred to as "rippling." Those "ripples" might also affect congressional and legislative districts differently, he said. If the same neighborhood is split in both maps, restoring it in one might have far different ramifications than doing so on the other.

After the draft map is approved, the Arizona Constitution mandates a 30-day public comment period with meetings across the state. Once that tour concludes, the commission will draw its final maps, which it hopes to approve by Dec. 22, though Neuberg has cautioned that the process could stretch into mid-January.

"Only the final map is final. Every decision prior to that can be revisited," Johnson said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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The congressional (left) and legislative (right) grid maps that will serve as the starting point for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw the state’s political maps.


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