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The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will begin adjusting its grid maps next week, the first time it will take an active role in drawing what will ultimately become the congressional and legislative districts that the state will use for the next decade.
On Sept. 14, the commission approved two grid maps drawn by its consultants. The districts in those maps are based on nothing more than equal population, with no heed paid to the other six redistricting criteria in the Arizona Constitution, and are meant to serve as a starting point that wipes the previous maps clean.
During two day-long meetings on Monday and Tuesday, the commissioners will begin incorporating their own ideas into the maps and make their first adjustments based on the other criteria. The Arizona Constitution mandates six criteria: equal population, adherence to the Voting Rights Act, compactness and contiguity, respect for political and geographic boundaries, respect for communities of interest, and competitiveness.
Doug Johnson, one of the AIRC’s mapping consultants, advised the commission on Tuesday to focus first on big picture changes, such as ensuring that the districts don’t split up cities and tribal reservations that should be kept whole. Some Arizonans have already expressed concerns to the commission that the Navajo Nation and Paradise Valley, for example, are divided between different legislative districts in the grid map.
“Discussions of, ‘Should it run down 19th Avenue or 17th Avenue?’, the map’s going to be moving around so much in these early stages that one block here or there or one small street here or there is going to move again and again and again,” Johnson said. “So, don’t worry about the small changes at first. The first stage is really the big picture revisions to the grids.”
That doesn’t mean the commissioners shouldn’t or can’t consider myriad other changes. Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner expressed an interest in evaluating changes to the grid map for competitiveness when they adjust the lines next week.
The meetings are expected to be at Phoenix City Council Chambers. Monday’s meeting is expected to begin at noon, while the meeting on Tuesday, which is when the AIRC holds its weekly regular meetings, will begin at 8 or 9 a.m., according to AIRC Executive Director Brian Schmitt.
Next week’s meetings will be rare opportunities for the commission, which has mostly met virtually as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, to meet in person. But unlike at other in-person meetings the commission has held, members of the public will not have an opportunity to express their thoughts in-person.
The commission has thus far collected most of its public comments online, and it plans to continue that at the grid map revision meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
Commissioner Erika Neuberg, the AIRC’s independent chair, said it could be better to switch to in-person public comments, considering that the commission will be beginning the more meaningful part of its work, with more people paying attention. On the other hand, she said, the meetings will be during the day, meaning only a narrow segment of the public will have the opportunity to attend, and the commission will be digesting a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time.
The commissioners largely supported Republican Commissioner Douglas York’s suggestion that they continue accepting public comments electronically, and reserve the last hour of each meeting to review those comments. Republican Commissioner David Mehl said the electronic submissions were more democratic, and that the public would have ample opportunity to comment in person when the commission holds its 30 days of public hearings after it approves draft maps.
Lerner said the AIRC could accept public comments electronically on Monday, and if that doesn’t work for the commission, it can change course on Tuesday.
The AIRC is in the midst of a round of five hearings to get input from the public on the grid maps. The fourth of those five meetings will be on Wednesday in Scottsdale, with a satellite location in Tucson. The fifth and final meeting will be in Surprise on Oct. 7, after next week’s revision meetings.
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