Commentary

‘Redistricting’ may sound boring, but what if I told you the future of our democracy is at stake

December 31, 2021 8:00 am

Sadiq and Dana Daniels cross the street after voting at the Surprise Court House polling location on Nov. 3, 2020, in Surprise, Ariz. Photo by Christian Petersen | Getty Images

“Redistricting” may be one of the most boring words in the English language. Ask most people what it is and their eyes will likely glaze over.

But the outcome of the so-called redistricting process well underway across the nation promises to have a profound effect on the lives of most Americans for at least the next 10 years.

A quick tutorial: redistricting is the once-a-decade process for redrawing existing maps for the districts where voters cast their ballots to pick our representatives in Congress or our respective state legislature. The impetus for the process is the U.S. Census, which tallies our population and tracks our country’s ever-evolving demographics.

I know, that still sounds kind of boring.

Think of it this way, redistricting could well lead to the election of people who get to decide, among many other things:

  • Whether women get to exercise their right to an abortion.
  • How much your state and federal taxes rise or fall.
  • What your kids learn in school and how much their teachers get paid.
  • Who manages our response to the deadly pandemic.

Still bored? Don’t be. Because based on the work over the past year of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission — made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent — the final maps they’ve drawn up will likely continue the GOP’s dominance of our nine-member congressional delegation and both chambers of the State Legislature.

The Cook Political Report predicts the makeup of Arizona’s congressional delegation could widen today’s 5-4 split to 6-3 in favor of the Republicans after the November midterm elections in 2022. In the Legislature, Republicans have a strong shot at maintaining control of the House and Senate. The AIRC’s final map carves out “13 safe Republican districts, 12 safe Democratic districts and five competitive districts … Of those five competitive districts, four lean Republican and one leans Democratic.”

Under normal circumstances, a pro-Republican outcome like this wouldn’t be the end of the world. But these are not normal circumstances or normal times.

The end of the world still seems a ways off, but left to the devices of today’s GOP, the end of democracy as we know it is a harrowingly distinct possibility.

Consider these terrifying but now very possible scenarios:

  • Republican and former local Fox News anchor Kari Lake, who’s been endorsed by President Trump, gets elected governor, then teams up with a Republican-led Legislature. Nevermind that she and about 70 percent of all Republicans insist, without evidence, that Biden stole the 2020 election from Trump. If that’s not bad enough, Lake is a champion of Trump’s racist and inhumane anti-immigrant agenda; has called for Arizona’s 2020 presidential election results to be “decertified;” once Tweeted that the “COVID vaccine is a nightmare that will NEVER stop;” and has even threatened to jail the Democratic front-runner in the governor’s race, Katie Hobbs, on wholly discredited charges of election fraud.
  • Republican State Reps. Mark Finchem or Shawnna Bolick, take your pick, get elected as Secretary of State, Arizona’s chief elections officer. Nevermind that Finchem, who’s also been endorsed by Trump, cheered the former president on during his Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. — which morphed into a mob of insurrectionists who violently stormed the Capitol to keep President Joe Biden from taking office. Finchem didn’t enter the Capitol and Bolick didn’t go to D.C. that day, but both are promoting Trump’s Big Lie that he’s still the rightful president.
  • The Arizona Legislature remains, for at least the next few years, in the hands of the GOP, the same party that publicly backed a nearly $6 million conspiracy-driven, self-styled audit of the 2020 presidential election — not because there’s one scintilla of evidence that Trump beat Biden, but because national publicity garnered by the pointless vote recount helps build mistrust in one of the foundational institutions of our democracy, our widely-esteemed election system, and more specifically Biden and the Democrats.  This is also the same party that’s hell bent on making it harder nationally for Democrats,  including a majority of the country’s growing number of voters of color, to exercise their right to vote.
  • Congress flips back to Republican control in 2022, thanks to a bump from Arizona’s already Republican-leaning delegation. The result? An end to the ongoing bi-partisan investigation into who planned and carried out the attempted coup on Jan. 6. Already, nearly 700 of the estimated 3,000 people who invaded the Capitol that day have been indicted on charges ranging from trespassing to violently assaulting police officers. One officer died the day after defending the Capitol against the pro-Trump mob. One attacker was shot and killed by police. Others died as a result of the riot as well.

Under normal circumstances, anti-democracy schemes like these wouldn’t play out. But these are not normal circumstances.

The only short-term way to counter this disturbing trend is for the U.S. Senate, including Arizona’s Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, is to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

“Together with the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (which would restore and update the full protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965), the Freedom to Vote Act would be the most comprehensive democracy reform law enacted in decades,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

But Congress needs to act soon, since the 2022 midterm elections are right around the corner.

The irony is that while the work of Arizona’s redistricting commission, unlike the process in Republican-led states like Texas and Ohio, was basically an exercise in how democracy is supposed to work, the ultimate effect of this year’s process — barring any serious court challenges — is that it’s likely to contribute to the momentum of the GOP’s growing determination to unravel our democracy.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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