By Terri Jo Neff
The boundaries of Arizona’s 30 legislative districts and 9 congressional districts are redrawn from scratch every 10 years based on U.S. Census population data. The task belongs to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).
With the census data finally released last month, the IRC’s first mapping activity is to create Grid Maps showing the districts with equal population without regard to any other issues. Those Grid Maps are expected to be presented Tuesday when the IRC’s two Democrats, two Republicans, and Independent chairperson meets at 8 a.m. The public is invited to watch live at www.irc.az.gov
The commissioners have the option of adopting the Grid Maps during the meeting. Those maps will be followed in a few weeks by Draft Maps and then Final Maps by year-end.
Another IRC activity is to seek citizen feedback, which is one reason the same mapping software tool and database will be available to the public. A training session on the mapping tool will livestreamed Monday at 10 a.m., with a recording of the training posted on the IRC website on Tuesday.
Arizona voters passed Prop 106 in November 2000 to amend the Arizona Constitution by removing state lawmakers the power to draw state legislative and congressional legislative districts. The districts are to have equivalent population “to the extent practicable” in order to follow the one-person, one-vote premise of Arizona election law.
For the soon to be created legislative districts, that comes out to about 238,00 residents per district. Each congressional district would have about 794,000 residents.
However, each final district map may have populations which vary by several thousands due to the other five areas the IRC must consider: district shape, the federal Voting Rights Act, geographical features, potential competitiveness, and respect for communities of interest.
Steve Gaynor of Fair Maps Arizona is excited for the release of the Grid Maps, as they will show where Arizona’s nearly 12 percent population growth over the last decade has occurred.
“The Grid Maps are the first time we will see exactly how our population has changed,” he told AZ Free News. “We will see significant population growth, especially in metropolitan areas, and a few areas that have declined.”
Gaynor, a 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate, founded Fair Maps Arizona in advance of this year’s redistricting effort due to concerns the previous IRC drew maps which did not follow the Arizona Constitution. He believes it is important for citizens to understand and participate in the IRC process, which Gaynor calls a “vital process in maintaining our democracy.”
That participation can involve expressing comments or concerns to the IRC in writing or at public hearings.
“I think individual comments to the IRC are important and do make a difference,” Gaynor said. “Of the six constitutional requirements for redistricting, the requirement to respect communities of interest is the most subjective, which is why hearing from people about it is so important. I think the commissioners will produce better maps as a result of having heard directly from the people.”
The IRC will conduct public hearings later this month about the Grid Maps. Those hearings will be the second time commissioners involved in the 2021 redistricting will hear from the public.
Earlier this summer, IRC commissioners took part in 15 public hearings about how the requirement of communities of interest should be considered. Gaynor said he was impressed that the commissioners took the time to travel across the state to hear from people on the subject.
“The commissioners listened carefully to the testimony and asked good questions,” he said. “They were clearly engaged with the people testifying.”
More information about the IRC process can be found at https://fairmapsarizona.org/