Over the next year five people you’ve never heard of and didn’t vote for will be among the most powerful politicians in Arizona.
And they’ll also be the five hardest working hapless saps in the state.
They are the members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, who have been tasked with redrawing the state’s Congressional and legislative boundaries for the next decade.
If what happened 10 years ago is a guide, they will work very hard to meet the requirements of Proposition 106 – passed by voters in 2000 – that seeks districts of roughly equal population that are compact and contiguous, respect “communities of interest” and are competitive politically without harming the other goals all while adhering to the federal Voting Rights Act protecting minority voting power.
And they will fail, just like the preceding commission did, at least in terms of competitiveness.
In 2001, the Redistricting Commission hired experts who used complicated statistical and mapping software to draw maps they believed would meet the new law’s goals, then held lots of meetings and hearings to make sure everyone with a dog in the fight got a growl in about it.
In early 2002 they released the new maps and were promptly sued by Hispanics, who said they’d lost voting power, and Democrats, who said it hadn’t created enough “competitive” districts since only four of 30 state legislative districts had roughly equal numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats and there were more Republican “safe” districts than safe Democratic ones.
An interim map that increased the supposedly “competitive” districts to seven, mostly at the expense of Republicans, and that packed more Hispanics into a couple of districts had to be used for the 2002 elections
Then a new map similar to the interim map was drawn for 2004, which a judge rejected but an appeals court approved. It’s the map that’s been used in all subsequent elections even though the case persisted in appeals for most of the decade.
The state Supreme Court finally resolved the case in 2009, ruling that competitive districts were a “subordinate” goal to the other requirements of the law.
The ruling turned upside down the primary intent of elections reformers – the creation of more competitive voting districts.
That effort, though noble and well intentioned, was doomed from the start. The rise of independent voters (roughly 1 in 6 voters were independents in 2001, now 1 in 3 are), the failure of Clean Elections, rampant population growth and the courts gutting the open primary law, had eviscerated any semblance of politically balanced districts by 2006. Those same forces will immediately start eroding any attempt at political equality made by this commission.
It’s a certainty this commission will work very hard, try to follow the law, be harassed, harried and harangued by dozens of constituencies affected by the outcome, create a swell new map – and get sued.
Or, they could save themselves a lot of time and effort by just having a computer quickly draw new district lines and let the lawsuits fly.
Since they’re on a fool’s errand, they might as well get a judge to go along with them sooner rather than later.