Arizona isn't likely to get three congressional districts along the border, despite pleas from some speakers at recent public hearings who sought increased political clout for border communities.
Mapping consultants for the Independent Redistricting Commission told the five-member volunteer board in a Monday hearing in Tucson that splitting the border into three or even four districts, while preserving minority voting rights and respecting communities of interest, as required, could be challenging.
The preliminary map they produced as a general talking point essentially retains two border districts, with Pima County remaining the dividing line between the two.
The map also retained two majority-minority districts - one in Maricopa County and another in Southern Arizona. Currently, Arizona has two majority-minority congressional districts, represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Ed Pastor in Phoenix and Raúl Grijalva in Southern Arizona.
Commissioners said they plan to continue playing out "what-if" scenarios to try out different concepts as they aim for a more defined map to present during a second round of public hearings at the end of September.
Several speakers at the hearing, meanwhile, asked commissioners to keep a focus on competitiveness.
State Democratic Rep. Steve Farley, for example, told the commission that existing districts aren't fair. The partisan split among voters is far closer than the GOP supermajority threshold in the Legislature would suggest, he said, and added that uncompetitive districts result in politicians who listen only to more-hard-core primary voters.
Tucson resident Frank Bergen testified that in Legislative District 30, Yankees player Derek Jeter wouldn't be able to win unless he ran as a Republican, while former Packers coach Vince Lombardi wouldn't be able to win in District 28 unless he came back to life as a Democrat.
Beyond competitiveness, commissioners must consider a host of factors as they draw lines - such as making sure districts are as compact as possible and clumping together communities that share commonalities - but a federal compliance consultant who worked with the Department of Justice during the last redistricting round after the 2000 census told commissioners that their No. 1 goal must be to meet voting-rights requirements.
Commissioners won't be allowed to weaken or reduce the ability of minority voters to choose their candidate of choice, consultant Bruce Adelson said. That essentially means they'll have to start with the current benchmarks of two congressional districts and nine legislative districts.
But, Adelson warned, they also must steer clear of "packing" districts with too many minorities, lest it artificially reduce minority voters in adjoining districts.
And, he said, commissioners may not artificially inflate the minority population by using the prison population to create majority-minority districts, especially since so many have lost their right to vote.
Commissioners have not yet determined how to address prisoners, who are included in census counts.
Consultants have indicated some states, such as New York, use the home address of prisoners, rather than the prison address. Commissioners may also consider attempting to spread the prison populations among various districts, rather than put them all in one.
Adelson said the issue of how to handle prisoners is a gap in the statutes, noting there isn't even a Supreme Court case that would give strong guidance. He said that if commissioners don't count them, however, they might run the risk of an objection based on equal protection and noted there is an argument that prisoners still are part of an elected officials' constituent base.
In other action, the commission reaffirmed the selection of its controversial mapping consultant, Strategic Telemetry, without opposition, with Pima County Republican Richard Stertz voting present, while the other four voted to retain the firm. The choice raised alarms in conservative circles because the firm has done extensive work with Democrats.
Republican Commissioner Scott Day Freeman said that while his initial reservations persist, "the ship has sailed" on the selection. He said he had an added level of comfort since the consultants are keeping a log of every outside contact they make, in an attempt to be more transparent and show who, if anyone, is lobbying them.
The commission could not decide whether to include media contacts on the log requirements, delaying that clarification to a future meeting. The commission is aiming to have final maps by the end of October.
On StarNet: Read more about local, state and national political news at azstarnet.com/politics
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.