Let Arizona Residents Draw the Map

by Tony Sissons

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On the chance that the state’s legislative map must be redrawn before the next federal census, let me suggest a workable method that (1) retains the Redistricting Commission’s authority, (2) observes the Arizona Constitution’s redistricting principles, and (3) reduces the influence of political parties.

I am a Phoenix-based redistricting consultant who has managed redistricting processes for county supervisorial districts, community college districts and city council districts.  All 31 redistricting plans adopted by my client jurisdictions have been precleared by the U. S. Department of Justice on first submission, and none have been challenged in court.  In the 1991 and 2001 rounds of redistricting, I drew each plan, but for this go-round, I worked with a Phoenix-based computer mapping company to offer each jurisdiction the option of providing their residents with a web-based redistricting application.

The counties of Gila, Graham, Mohave and Navajo and the cities of Globe and Phoenix implemented the online resident mapping.  Resident-submitted maps were adopted in Gila County (supervisorial and community college plans), Navajo County (supervisorial), and Phoenix (a merging of two resident plans for new council districts).  Each plan was precleared by DOJ.  The mapping application was sufficiently ‘friendly’ that, in Phoenix, over 40 percent of the 170 residents who logged on to the website submitted a complete plan.

Here is my suggestion:

  • The commission would engage an online-mapping firm, widely extend the invitation to submit a map, establish guidelines, and decide the relative importance of each redistricting principle.

  • The commission would appoint an evaluation panel to objectively score each submitted plan on each redistricting principle, and determine each plan’s composite score.

  • The evaluation panel would forward the four highest-scoring plans to the commission without identifying the submitting person or organization.

  • The commission would not be able to make any modifications but, after conducting any necessary public hearings, would simply adopt one of the four plans.

The last two points are key.  If this method is adopted or ordered by a court, I would expect political parties to submit maps along with many other groups and individuals.  If every participant knows, from the start, that the commission (1) must adopt one of the finalist maps,(2) is barred from making any changes, and (3) cannot know who submitted each plan, then each map-drawer would be motivated to create the most reasonable and constitutionally-compliant map in the hope that theirs would be the one chosen. Indeed, the more partisan the submission, the higher the likelihood of not being a finalist.

Tony Sissons is president and owner of Research Advisory Services, a Phoenix public policy and demographic research consulting firm.