Scottsdale and north Phoenix residents emphasize diversity and competitiveness in district drawings, as citizen speakers advocated for fairness and representation before the public and Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission members at the commission’s public meeting on Sept. 29.
The commission, a panel independent of Arizona State’s legislature, invites community members to participate in the state redistricting process through public hearings and the commission’s online, virtual district map drafting software, which allows citizens to submit and draft maps of their own.
“Every actionable step is done in public,” said Dr. Erika Neuberg, chairwoman and independent head of the commission. “We encourage everyone to engage so we can learn the public’s needs.”
Dr. Neuberg serves as the tie-breaking vote among the four other commission members; two democrats and two republicans which together represent three out of 15 of Arizona’s counties.
The Sept. 29 meeting served as the fourth out of five opportunities for Arizonans to voice their concerns to the commission at public meetings in phase two of the grid mapping process, and was held at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center in Scottsdale.
The once-in-a decade redistricting process follows the rollout of the 2020 census and calls for a reevaluation of Arizona’s nine congressional and 30 legislative districts by the commission in regards to the changes in population and other demographic data, which will remain effective for the next decade.
“Citizens have the ability to map right along with us using the exact same data and platform as the Commission,” said Neuberg. Through the online map submission software and public hearings, the commission provides Arizonans unique opportunities to “share feedback about their communities of interest and preferred district lines,” Neuberg added.
As the commission approaches the fourth and final phase of the grid-mapping process, final map submissions are due to be certified by the Secretary of State by December 2021. The new districts must comply with equal population requirements, be in agreement with the U.S. Constitution and
Voting Rights Act, represent relevant geographical features, respect communities of interest and consider competitiveness, as stated by Arizona law in the commission’s legal overview.
Serving communities of interest, or groups of citizens that benefit from remaining in the same district, was a prominent topic for attendees who spoke. Many advocating for these interest groups spoke on behalf of communities that are traditionally left out of the political process, such as minority groups or citizens of rural areas.
“Arizona has had an increase of population of nearly 12% from 2010,” said Victoria Grijalva, redistricting program manager at One Arizona, a non-partisan coalition of 28 organizations that represent minority groups, during an Ethnic Media Services briefing.
According to Grijalva, much of this growth has been driven by Arizona’s latino and black populations.
“It is absolutely critical that we are incorporated into this process as the commission rolls forward,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva, along with many other speakers at last Wednesday’s meeting, campaigned for diversity and for equal representation of minority groups to encourage a competitive and democratic process. Many stress that diversity within the new districts would prevent partisan majorities and extremist candidates.
“Arizona is a diverse and growing community, which we need to respect in the mapping process,” said Scottsdale resident Lynn Walsh. “Competitive districts require candidates to appeal to broad sections of the population and lead to a healthy democracy, so nobody feels disenfranchised [or] left out.”
Diversity was a popular theme for the evening, with many speakers advocating for variety in district drafts. However, the topic of how this new data should best be reflected varied among participants, as Arizonans voiced differing opinions on district representation throughout the event.
“I’ve heard a lot of people asking for diversity and competitiveness, but I am here to talk against diversity and competitiveness,” said Tucson attendee Sherryln Young, a retired physician who participated in the Scottsdale meeting virtually from Pima County. “In case nobody notices, the opposite of a community of interest is diversity...we want representation that will represent our community,” she added, receiving an applause from many of the Scottsdale audience members.
However, some attendees showed up to voice their frustrations with the process in general.
“Like many people, I’ve struggled to use the redistricting system tool and find a way to intelligently look at maps being proposed by the public,” said Paradise Valley resident Mary-Jeanne Fincher, who reported difficulty navigating the mapping software despite watching six of the tutorials multiple times.
Others spoke on the process being too exclusionary, and not taking enough measures to accommodate all members of Arizona’s population.
“Inclusion could have been improved by getting the word out across the state much earlier in the process,” said speaker Victoria Kauzlarich, who represents Scottsdale as AZ Legislative District 23 Executive Board Chair.
Others addressed the lack of consideration for citizens of minority groups, as even the online mapping program was only available in English, despite just over 20% of Arizona’s population identifying as Spanish speakers.
“We are very clearly seeing that the commission is not prioritizing communities of color,” Grijalva said, noting that meetings scheduled one week in advance cause difficulty for working populations, and that there was a lack of meetings held in Hispanic communities.
“It really just comes down to attending a hearing that you didn’t hear about, that is not scheduled in your community, and is not scheduled at a time that works for you,” Grijalva said.
Brian Schmitt, executive director of the commission, thanked participants for sharing their concerns, and that they are currently “working on adjustments” that address issues online.
The commission will host its fifth meeting of stage two of the redistricting process at The Vista Center for the Arts in Surprise, on Thursday, Oct. 7, as the final opportunity for citizens to speak before the commission as they transition to the third phase of the grid mapping process.
“It will be an ongoing process for much of October as we gradually adjust the lines over many days of dialogue,” said Neuberg.
The upcoming hearings are available to all Arizonans to view live from the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s website, where citizens can continue to participate through submitting comments and map proposals at all hours of the day.
Editor’s Note: Angela Anderson is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.