With Arizona's redistricting efforts about to get under way, a group pushing for more competitive political districts is sponsoring a movie here today to help frame the discussion.
"Gerrymandering," a documentary about the high-stakes, winner-take-all process that takes place every decade across the country, is being brought to Tucson for one showing by the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition, with a discussion to follow.
By the group's estimate, Arizona has six competitive legislative districts of the current 30. It wants that number to be 10 this time around.
It also has a goal of having four competitive congressional districts, of the nine Arizona will have next election cycle.
While politicians in most states have direct authority for redrawing political boundaries - and the film explores the ways politicians can manipulate the redistricting process - Arizona voters reformed the system to have a more arms-length process. Now, five citizens appointed largely by political leaders from both parties have that responsibility.
Ken Clark, a former Dem-ocratic legislator from central Phoenix who is now the lead coordinator for the coalition, said it remains "mind-boggling" to him that despite the heavy Republican advantage at the Legislature - Democrats will only have nine members in the Senate this year - there's only a small registration difference between the two major parties.
In October, there were 1 million Democrats to 1.1 million Republicans state-wide.
What that means, he said, is that vast swaths of the population - whether it be Republicans in Democratic districts or Democrats in Republican districts - are disenfranchised and "effectively don't have a voice after the primary," he said.
He surmised that has an impact on voter turnout, since in many districts, the minority party has a limited shot at success. "I would argue if you want more-responsive politicians, then you need to set up a system where politicians will be concerned they might lose the next election," Clark said, criticizing the results of the state's first effort.
Clark said the coalition, organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the umbrella of the League of Conservation Voters, is actively looking for Republican co-chairs.
Steve Lynn, the chairman of the inaugural redistricting commission, said it's not as simple as it sounds, since competitiveness, while laudable, is subordinate to other goals listed in the law.
The law says districts shall comply with the Voting Rights Act and be generally equal in population, while also requiring those districts to be "geographically compact and contiguous" and respect "communities of interest."
It says to the "extent practicable," competitive districts shall be favored unless it would serve as a detriment to the other goals.
"It's easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback and say we should have and could have done this or that," Lynn said, saying it doesn't make sense to start out with a target number for competitive districts when the other criteria have to be met first. "They either don't understand the process or don't want to accept it."
Nevertheless, the coalition is using a Wiki approach to try to come up with competitive districts, building online mapping software to let observers draw their own districts. Clark said the group will launch a competition to see who can do the best job of meeting all six criteria.
If you go
The Tucson premiere of the documentary movie "Gerrymandering" begins at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Screening Room, 127 E. Congress, with a $10 suggested donation to benefit the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition.
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.