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Pima County setting up redistricting committee after Census shows uneven growth

A committee to redraw the Pima County districts represented by the Board of Supervisors and the Pima Community College Governing Board will start meeting in January. The county supervisors voted 5-0 to establish the committee at their last meeting and gave them a July 1 deadline to update district boundaries to reflect a population decrease in the county’s two majority-minority districts.

Each member of the Board of Supervisors has to appoint a representative for their district to serve on the Redistricting Advisory Committee, as the new committee is called. The committee will then hold five meetings with a public hearing scheduled on each agenda. They’ll also have to report to the county board on a bi-weekly basis.

The deadline for Pima County to finish redistricting is July 1, but the Redistricting Advisory Committee has to complete their work by April 30. The Board of Supervisors has to finalize their redistricting plan by May 30.

Census woes

Arizona counties redistrict every ten years, but this year’s process was delayed by the late release of census population estimates, which the U.S. Census Bureau attributed to coronavirus.

The districts in Pima County will have to be redistricted by turning certain voter precincts over from the more populated districts to the two majority-minority districts that now have smaller shares of the county population since the last census.

Pima County has to redistrict to comply with a state law requiring district populations to be balanced. However, because of a lag in population growth in the county’s two majority-minority districts, the county also has to make sure it’s in compliance with a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership of a language minority group specified in the law, according to a memo by Acting County Administrator Jan Lesher.

When the county was last redistricted in 2011, Pima County had a population of 980,263 that was divided among the five districts. Each district was drawn to represent between 194,000-198,000 people by cutting through parts of Tucson and grouping or separating municipalities and tribal lands.

In the past decade, Pima County’s population has grown by more than 60,000 people to 1,043,433. District 4, which is represented by the lone Republican on the board, Supervisor Steve Christy, covers areas like Tanque Verde, Vail and Green Valley and grew the most with more than 25,000 new residents. District 1, which is represented by Supervisor Rex Scott, covers Marana, Oro Valley and the Catalina Foothills and grew by more than 23,000 residents.

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District 3, represented by Supervisor Sharon Bronson, the chairwoman of the county board, grew by just slightly more than 10,000 residents, but is still the biggest district area-wise, encompassing all of Pima County west of Tucson, including the entire Tohono O’odham Nation and parts of north Tucson, including Flowing Wells.

“Majority-minority districts”

Both Districts 2 and 5 are “majority-minority districts,” which, according to the Voting Rights Act, means the majority of the voting age population in those districts are part of one racial or ethnic minority group, which is Hispanics in both districts. Democratic Supervisors Matt Heinz and Adelita Grijalva represent Districts 2 and 5, respectively, and both won their seats in the 2020 general election.

Majority-minority districts have to have enough voting-age minorities from their primary racial or ethnic group to make sure the candidates those minorities would elect have a chance to win. Districts can also incorporate voter precincts where there is a recent history of white voters and other minorities voting for the same candidate as the primary minority group, which is called “crossover voting.”

The Redistricting Advisory Committee has to redraw the boundaries of Districts 2 and 5 to include voting precincts that will boost their populations to meet requirements while remaining in compliance with the Voting Rights Act by making sure the districts don’t lose their ability to elect the “minority’s preferred candidate,” according to the Lesher memo. The committee has to make sure those districts incorporate voting precincts that won’t disrupt the minority population’s voting power.

County districts must have populations that are 10 percent larger or smaller than each other. Because Supervisor Christy’s District 4 is estimated to now have 223,745 residents, the differences in population between his district and Districts 2 and 5 are now greater than 10 percent of the population of a county district.

In 2011, voting-age Hispanics made up 51 and 48 percent of the populations of Districts 2 and 5, respectively. The percent of the voting-age population that were a racial or ethnic minority, including more than just Hispanics, was 64 percent in District 2 and 61 percent in District 5.

New divisions

District 2 covers parts of midtown, most of southern Tucson, including the city of South Tucson, and most of Sahuarita, but the district’s population grew by less than 5,000. District 5, which covers the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the West Side and parts of Midtown, was the only district to see its population shrink since 2011, going from 195,287 residents to 192,859.

Two options were suggested in Lesher’s memo for possible redistricting outcomes. The first option suggests taking a single voter district located along Pantano Road and Broadway from Christy’s District 4 and adding it to Grijalva’s District 5. This would shrink the largest district and add to the smallest one so that the greatest difference in population across the county districts is within about 9.5 percent of the largest district’s population. This would balance the districts with minimal redrawing.

Option 2 suggests giving Heinz’s District 2 more of Sahuarita; giving District 5 another precinct in Tucson and another west of Interstate 19; giving Bronson’s District 3 a precinct between Swan Road and Craycroft Road and two precincts along Interstate 10; and giving Christy’s District 4 a precinct just north of Catalina Highway, at the end of Bear Canyon Road. Supervisor Scott’s District 1 would be the only district without a change of its boundaries.

In addition to public hearings at each meeting, the Redistricting Advisory Committee's public process will include outreach to stakeholders such as the chairs for the Pima County Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian parties, Chicanos por La Causa, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Pima County Election Integrity Commission. Cities and town governments will also be asked for input.

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The PCC Governing Board will be included in the process for input, but otherwise has a limited role. The five members of their board are elected by the same districts as the County Board of Supervisors, and PCC will redraw the boundaries for their Governing Board to match Pima County’s redistricting.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Courtesy of Pima County

The current map of the boundaries for the Pima County Board of Supervisors districts and the Pima Community College Governing Board districts.


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