Redistricting likely to shift supervisor areas slightly

2011-06-06T00:00:00Z Redistricting likely to shift supervisor areas slightlyBy Rhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 06, 2011 12:00 am  • 

For voters holding their collective breaths in hope that the new round of redistricting would result in more competitive Pima County supervisorial elections - eh - go ahead and exhale.

In all likelihood, when all the meetings are said and done, the county will likely remain divvied up in much the same way as it is today.

The map is going to have to shift a little, given new census numbers.

East-side District 4, for example, has nearly 19,000 more voters than it should have, if all five districts are to have roughly 196,000 voters. District 5, covering downtown and the university areas, will need to pick up nearly 18,000 more voters to come up to par.

But in the end, after some tweaking here and there, it's likely there will be a northwest-side district, leaning Republican. There will be an east-side district, leaning Republican. There will be two decisively Democratic districts on the south and west sides, where minorities will make up a majority of voters, and a moderately Democratic, sprawling District 3 reaching to the western county line that is closing in on 47 percent minority voters.

The five-member panel tasked with the chore - each member an appointee of one of the sitting supervisors - confronted a choice last week, when it gathered for its second meeting to begin redrawing lines.

The first option: Members could start with a blank slate, essentially using the county's population center at Park Avenue and 18th Street as a starting point, and continue until the county was sliced into five shapes.

Or they could keep the lines essentially the way they are, with little modification.

On a 3-2 vote, with the Republican appointees on the losing end, they voted to keep the lines the way they are.

Much of the discussion boiled down to race, since, as a consequence of historical discrimination, the U.S. Justice Department has to OK all electoral changes that affect minority voting.

There are two districts currently that have a majority of minority residents. In District 2, represented by Ramón Valadez, minority voters make up 66 percent of its population. In District 5, represented by Richard Elías, minority voters make up 63 percent.

Elías appointee Augustine Romero, the former director of the Tucson Unified School District's embattled Ethnic Studies program, said it made sense to stick more or less with the current configuration, since the Justice Department already signed off on it. Any redrawing of the lines based on some goal of statistical neutrality, he warned, could have the effect of disempowering minority voters.

But Supervisor Ray Carroll's Republican appointee, Robert Fee, argued that putting race foremost may violate equal protection, urging his colleagues to instead let the district lines fall as they may.

Brad Nelson, Pima County's elections director, advised commissioners that they likely need to maintain the majority-minority districts already in existence.

Nelson distributed guidance published in the Federal Register by the Justice Department indicating the last approved plan would serve as a benchmark against which new plans would be compared, to make sure there isn't a reduction in minority voting strength.

In essence, that means the new plan must ensure the ability of minority voters to elect their preferred candidate of choice.

Nelson said it's also not enough to merely look at the percentage of residents, but also to look at turnout. Given that minority voters overall have a lower turnout in elections, it may not be enough to merely have 50 percent plus 1, for example.

Take voter behavior in Districts 1 and 2, for example. The northwest-area district has nearly 117,000 registered voters. The south-side district, even though it has a bigger population, has only about 73,000 registered voters.

Chairman Robert Gugino said going to a blank slate would require too many subjective considerations. "It would be a process you could spend a year on," he said.

Supervisors hope to see the new maps by September in order to get federal approval on time for next year's elections.

On StarNet: Read the Star's local politics blog, Pueblo Politics, at go.azstarnet.com/pueblopolitics

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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