Citizen Staff Writer
Census 2010 is a little more than a year away – yet courts in Arizona still are fighting about election lines based on Census 2000.
There is a chance legislative districts could be redrawn for the 2010 election – just in time for them to be redrawn again for the 2012 election.
And, unbelievably, this is supposed to be the improved way to draw political boundaries.
This court-ordered exercise does no favors for Arizona voters. If there are changes to be made, they should be put off until after the 2010 Census.
In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot proposition to establish the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The group was charged with drawing boundaries for the state’s eight congressional and 30 legislative districts. The job had previously been done by state legislators, and the commission was seen as a way to take politics out of the process.
But drawing political boundaries is all about politics. And as the past eight years have shown, politics cannot – and probably should not – be removed.
The commission was charged with drawing districts that:
• Comply with the constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The influence of minorities cannot be diluted by dividing them into several districts.
• Have near-equal population.
• Are “geographically compact.”
• Do not split “communities of interest.”
• Are politically competitive – as long as that does not harm other goals.
Practically, it’s impossible to accomplish it all. For example, people in a “community of interest” are likely to have similar political philosophies. Keep them together and it is difficult to have politically competitive districts.
Nonetheless, legal battles have raged for seven years now. The fight over legislative districts in particular has bounced around the courts like an amped-up pinball.
Democrats sued, saying they didn’t have a chance to win enough seats in the Legislature. But they then won some seats they said they couldn’t.
Last week, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether enough emphasis was placed on making districts competitive. The court is expected to rule in several months. An adverse ruling could mean new districts for 2010 and again for 2012.
The Supreme Court could have prevented this confusion had it issued the commission clear guidelines on how to weigh the various line-drawing requirements. That hasn’t happened.
To minimize confusion for voters, the court should leave district boundaries untouched for 2010 – the final year before the process starts again.
The court then should issue clear instructions on how much weight the commission should give to each competing requirement. In that way, districts drawn based on the 2010 census could take those unambiguous guidelines into account.
That won’t eliminate court battles in the next decade -but it may lessen them.
If the state Supreme Court gets involved now, there could be different districts in 2010 and again in 2012.