Arizona's Redistricting News
Media Services: "Federal judge throws out Dems' suit on new
legislative maps." May 27, 2004
Capitol Media Services
A legal tug-of-war over legislative redistricting intensified Friday, with state officials moving to get old boundaries used again and Hispanic Democrats pushing for swift court action in favor of new lines.
Saying there isn't enough time to switch to new districts, Secretary of State Jan Brewer said she will ask a state judge Monday to order that this year's elections use legislative districts that the judge had previously ruled unconstitutional.
Federal approval is needed to allow use of new districts drawn at the order of Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court.
"We've simply run out of time," Brewer said.
Also citing time considerations, the state Independent Redistricting Commission on Friday separately filed a similar request with Fields.
The panel asked Fields to lift his order prohibiting use this year of districts first used in the 2002 elections.
The 2002 districts' constitutionality remains in dispute because the commission is appealing Fields' ruling. But those districts are the only ones that have cleared a required federal review for compliance with projections for minorities' voting rights, commission attorney Lisa Hauser said.
Fields ruled Jan. 16 that the 2002 districts could not be used again because they violated the Arizona Constitution by not providing enough competition between the two major parties.
Also Friday, a federal judge held a brief hearing on a lawsuit by Hispanic Democrats seeking an order for use of the new districts.
U.S. District Judge Mary M. Murguia said she or another judge would take up the case as quickly as possible.
Which lines are ultimately used has high stakes for both major political parties' chances to gain or lose influence at the Legislature.
Also, some parts of the state figure political clout would increase or diminish depending on whether they dominate legislative districts.
Candidates have been following an interim court order that allows them to acquire signatures from voters in districts used in the 2002 elections - the ones which Fields overturned and which Brewer wants to use again this year.
However, uncertainty surrounding which lines will be used in the fall elections continues to cause confusion for potential candidates and election officials, Brewer said.
"We can't do our job if we can't accurately identify the districts where candidates are expected to run," Brewer said.
Paul Eckstein, a lawyer for the Democrats, said Brewer's request is premature.
He suggested that Brewer, a Republican, had partisan motivations for urging use of the old districts.
Legal uncertainty over which lines to use two years ago was resolved with a May 29, 2002, order by federal judges, Eckstein noted. "We're not even in May. It is possible."
Brewer was not taking sides in the dispute over the districts and partisan considerations were not a factor, Deputy Secretary of State Kevin Tyne said. "We're not saying which ones are better."
In their April 23 lawsuit, the Hispanic Democrats, joined by the Navajo Nation, said there wasn't enough time for the U.S. Justice Department's voting rights review and asked that a federal court order use of the new districts.
Lawyers told Murguia that Mohave County, Lake Havasu City and Kingman would join the federal case to oppose the new map, which divides the county between two legislative districts.
A lawyer for Flagstaff, which prefers the new map, said the city may join the case on the other side.
The new map has seven competitive districts, those where either major party has a reasonable chance of winning. Seven is the bare minimum required by Fields and an increase from four in the commission's earlier map.
Competitive districts are defined using a formula based on voter registration and voting patterns.
Aside from the seven competitive districts, the new map leaves the state with 14 Republican-leaning districts and nine Democratic-leaning districts.
Republicans hold an edge of 5 percentage points in statewide voter registration, and the party now controls both chambers of the Legislature.
The Republicans' edge is 17-13 in the Senate and 39-20 in the House, where there is also one Republican-leaning independent.
A judge accepted a new map of Arizona's legislative districts Friday, three months after rejecting an earlier version because it did not have enough districts deemed winnable by either major party.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields ordered the new map to be used for this fall's elections and for the rest of the decade.
The new plan, drawn by an independent redistricting commission, replaces one Fields threw out in January. It has seven competitive districts, the minimum required by Fields and an increase from four in the commission's first map.
Because Arizona has a history of violating minorities' voting rights, the U.S. Justice Department must approve the map before the new boundaries can take effect.
The commission is appealing Fields' Jan. 16 order and drew the revised map under protest. Commissioners said they were forced to abandon other constitutional goals for redistricting, including respecting traditional community boundaries, to create additional competitive districts.
A Republican group, Arizonans for Fair and Legal Redistricting, also objected, arguing that the new map forced officials to forego the creation of contiguous districts of equal size to draw additional competitive ones.
But the new map attracted support from a group of Hispanic Democrats, who praised the creation of additional districts.
Aside from the competitive districts, the new map leaves the state with 14 Republican-leaning districts and nine Democratic-leaning ones.
Republicans hold a five-point edge in statewide voter registration, and the party controls both chambers of the Legislature.
Tucson could hold unprecedented sway under the legislative districts proposed this week, with Southern Arizona voters potentially controlling the balance of power in the House and Senate.
With eight competitive districts and neither party controlling enough safe seats, swing districts will receive newfound attention. And Tucson would hold two of those seats.
"I know the Arizona state Democratic Party will be targeting those two districts," said Paul Eckerstrom, Pima County chairman for the party. "Tucson certainly becomes a much bigger player in state politics."
The Independent Redistricting Commission gave preliminary approval Monday to a new legislative map that creates 13 strong Republican districts, nine strong Democratic districts and eight competitive ones statewide.
The commission was forced to redraw the districts used in the last election after a minority coalition successfully sued in Maricopa County Superior Court, saying the panel did not follow the state constitution.
The new map, which still needs final approval from the commission Monday, would shine a bright light on Tucson and ensure Southern Arizona lawmakers receive key posts, said Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez, a Democrat.
"It makes this community important to both parties," Valadez said. "Whoever comes out of those races can play a pivotal leadership role in the Legislature. This becomes a needed community."
The new map pits Tucson-area legislators who have never faced off before. For instance, Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, would go up against Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee, a Republican, in a competitive district that leans Democratic.
Three Republican representatives, Marian McClure, Randy Graf and Pete Hershberger, are also in the same district.
The two districts that cover heavily Democratic and Hispanic central and west Tucson were unchanged.
Bee said he will study the district's demographics before deciding what to do. One option, he said, is moving.
"Gabby and I have been friends for a long time," Bee said. "I'll have to decide if that's a district I want to run in."
Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said that district may end up leaning more Republican because of growth in the Rita Ranch area on the Southeast Side and construction that could influence politics.
"There is a lot of new development that is unknown. There is a lot of state land that is going out to bid," Rodriguez said.
However, a northern Tucson district that takes in Oro Valley, part of Marana and Rancho Vistoso, which is competitive but leans Republican, has shown it will vote for a Democrat, Rod- riguez said. Gov. Janet Napolitano beat her Republican opponent in that area, she said.
In a district that includes the Catalina Foothills, Sierra Vista and Green Valley, the battle could come down to whether moderate Republicans can overpower their conservative breth-ren.
Hershberger, a moderate, said he welcomes a chance to take on Graf, who is more conservative. "I would love to run against Randy Graf," Hershberger said. "It would certainly give the citizens a choice between me and Randy Graf."
McClure said she welcomes the Foothills region that has been added to that district.
"I see that as being pretty good for me," she said. "They think I have an excellent voting record. That's what they tell me."
Graf said he won't change his stance on issues to win over moderate voters.
John Munger, the county Republican leader, said he had not looked enough at the map to determine who wins or loses.
Before campaigns gear up, however, the map must still receive several important approvals. First, the judge who said the commission violated the state constitution with the first map must review the revision and wants the map by March 5. The map then needs approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure protections for minorities.
In 2000, voters approved Proposition 106 that created the commission, taking redistricting away from the Legislature and mandating districts be drawn based on competition, compactness and communities of interest. The judge ruled the commission did not give enough consideration to competition.
Hispanic Democrats whose lawsuit resulted in court-ordered redrawing of the state's legislative districts have urged the Independent Redistricting Commission to concentrate on the Phoenix and Tucson areas while adding additional competitive districts.
As reviewed Sunday by the commission, the latest work-in-progress includes changes in rural areas of the state - mostly in counties north and west of Phoenix - in addition to the two major desert cities.
Mohave County's population centers now are in one district but effectively would be split between two, with much of the Kingman area going into a district that crosses traverses northern Arizona to also take in the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations some 200 miles to the east.
Elsewhere in Mohave County, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City would be in the same district with Flagstaff, which no longer would be in the same district with the Navajo Reservation.
Yavapai County now dominates a single district - and still would with the Verde Valley, Sedona and the Prescott area remaining together - but some other parts of the country would go into the district that includes Flagstaff.
Fewer changes were being contemplated in the south and east.
Yuma and Pinal counties would continue to dominate one district each though changes are made in outlying areas. The Yuma-dominated district, for instance, would lose most of tiny La Paz County to a district that extends into Maricopa County.
Sierra Vista would continue to be in a Tucson-dominated district and other parts of Cochise County would remain in a district that also includes Nogales and western Pima County.
Eastern-central Arizona would continue to have its own district south of the district that includes the Navajo Reservation and north of the district that includes most of Cochise County.
A judge ordered the commission to redraw its map of legislative districts to create additional competitive districts.
Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court's ruling said the commission did not put enough emphasis on that goal, one of several mandated by voters in 2000 when they approved a constitutional amendment creating the commission.
The commission is doing that while appealing Fields' ruling to the Court of Appeals.
While the fate of Arizona's newly redrawn legislative districts is argued in courts in Phoenix, local candidates seeking legislative offices in Cochise County sit waiting, unsure what areas they may seek to represent and where to garner signatures of support.
The problem stems from a dispute regarding legislative districts for the 2004 election, recently redrawn by the state's Independent Redistricting Commission. Added to the Arizona Constitution in 2000, the commission is tasked with dividing the state's legislative districts in a nonpartisan manner after each 10-year census.
After carving the state into districts that would shape this November's election cycle, the commission was sued by a group of Democrats and Hispanic voter interest groups earlier this year, charging the commission with unfairly dividing the state into districts to be easily won by Republican voters.
Last week, their claim was upheld when a Maricopa County Superior Court judge demanded that the districts be redrawn to address the issues of inequality.
With the change, candidates statewide are left not knowing what to do with signatures already collected, potentially from voters who soon will no longer be in their district.
"It's aggravating," said Rep. Randy Graf, who represents District 30 that contains Sierra Vista. "But it is similar to what happened with redistricting a few years ago and probably won't be the big problem it has been made out to be."
This time, however, any changes to the current map would require about 45 days for the commission to complete, followed by an additional 90-day review process by the federal Department of Justice to ensure equal access. If that happens, candidates unsure about which districts they would be running in would have less than three months to solicit signatures and launch successful bids for office.
Under the currently litigated proposal, all of Cochise County except the Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca area, falls in to District 25. The remainder of that district includes portions of Santa Cruz County, the rural western portions of Pima and Maricopa counties and the southwest corner of Pinal County.
The Sierra Vista area would instead be included in District 30, which includes the remainder of Santa Cruz County and the eastern-most region of Pima County that abuts the more heavily populated areas around Tucson.
Like Graf's assessment of District 30, the location and current division is relatively unimportant for candidates running in District 25, said incumbent Sen. Marsha Arzberger.
"I know most of the district will not be affected because Cochise County is almost completely covered," she said Wednesday. "Where the problems will come is in the areas that are next to District 30, which is part of the dispute now in court."
If the map is amended, the boundary between districts 25 and 30 could be moved and potentially shift Sierra Vista from one to the other. Thus, for candidates from the Sierra Vista area running for Legislature, though none have formally announced their bid, the change could mean the difference between stumping in Nogalas and stumping in Douglas.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has scheduled a meeting on Friday in Phoenix to address the impact the court's decision and has tentatively planned to meet in executive session to discuss the possibility of appealing the decision directly to state's Supreme Court.
In any event, candidates and incumbents from across Arizona are currently left in a state of limbo. Without knowing if signatures already obtained in the commission-approved districts will be valid if those district lines change, and when such changes will occur if at all, all are left waiting for a final decision from the courts.
Two years ago, the new Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was handed an impossible task and came up with a laudable result.
Now a Phoenix judge has disagreed, ordering the commission back to work - a ruling that is not only baffling but one that bollixes this fall's legislative elections.
In a ruling last week in Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Kenneth Fields said the five members of the redistricting commission must redraw Arizona's 30 legislative boundaries because the current ones are not competitive enough.
The political impact could be enormous. All 90 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs this fall and candidates must file nominating petitions by June 9.
Before this decade, political maps were drawn up by the Legislature - a procedure that led to gerrymandering and efforts by incumbents to ensure their longevity. In 2000, voters OK'd formation of the redistricting commission, which drew maps after extensive meetings across the state.
The commission was charged with creating 30 districts that had equal population, that kept people with common interests together, that didn't dilute the impact of minority voters and that were politically competitive. Fields ruled that the commission failed on that last point.
The commission's mandates work at cross-purposes. People with common concerns likely have common political beliefs. Keeping them in one district satisfies one mandate but is likely to give a strong edge to one political party.
Consider the Mesa area, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1. Should Mesa residents be placed into one district because they likely have common interests, or should they be split into several so the districts are politically competitive? It's a no-win decision.
It is puzzling that the maps thrown out by Fields were approved 11 months ago by the U.S. Department of Justice, which ensured that minority voters' chances to elect minority legislators were not diluted.
The lawsuit that led to Fields' ruling was filed by a coalition of minority voters supported by the Democratic Party. Their motivation was clearly political: Democrats wanted more districts in which they had a better chance of winning.
There are no Tucson legislative districts in which the number of Republicans and Democrats is within 10 percentage points of equal. While the commission might have achieved equality in some districts, that would have been possible only if ethnic minorities had been spread among districts, giving them no influence in any.
Commission members will meet tomorrow to decide whether to appeal Fields' ruling. They should. The current maps may not be perfect. But they are fair.
A judge overturned Arizona's legislative redistricting map Friday, ruling that it violated the state constitution by failing to give enough consideration to competitive districts.
The decision found that the new congressional map for Arizona's eight House seats also was flawed, but allowed those boundaries to stand. The judge said the congressional map accomplished other goals, including protecting minority representation.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields ordered the Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw the maps for the 30 legislative districts and barred the state from using the existing map in elections this year.
Both maps, which generally favor Republicans, were used in 2002 elections.
The case is expected to reach the Arizona Supreme Court, and the state's top election official said uncertainty about the maps could make this year's elections chaotic.
``The timing is very, very crucial,'' said Secretary of State Jan Brewer.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 creating the five-member commission, which includes two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent.
Under the amendment, the commission was designed to draw equal-population districts and take into account goals that included communities of interest, compactness and competitiveness _ whether individual districts could realistically be won by both major parties' candidates.
PHOENIX -- With only a handful of Democrats opposed, the Senate on Monday gave final approval to providing an additional $1.7 million to the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Monday's 22-4 vote sends the legislation to the governor who has said she will sign the measure once she reviews it. The House had OK'd the proposal last week on a party-line vote with all Democrats opposed.
The infusion comes nine days before a trial where the commission will be defending the legislative and congressional districts it crafted. Several individuals and groups have filed challenges contending the five-member commission did not follow state constitutional mandates in drawing the lines.
Commission Chairman Steve Lynn said the funding is far short of the $4.2 million he had sought from the Legislature. That figure was based on conducting not only a trial but also an anticipated appeal by whichever side loses and the possibility that a judge may order the commission to revamp the district boundaries.
But Lynn said the funding should be enough to complete the trial which is expected to last five weeks.
The legislation leaves the commission free to seek additional funding next year from state lawmakers.
But Lynn and his colleagues are not counting on legislators' continued acquiescence to their request. On Monday they voted to have one of their members pursue a deal with Maricopa County to see if the five-member Board of Supervisors, including four republicans, are willing to make some cash available.
Board Chairman Fulton Brock did not return repeated phone calls to his office. But Mary Rose Wilcox, the lone Democrat, said it would be inappropriate for the county to get in the middle of the fight
A U.S. District Court judge has sent a lawsuit over Arizonaís legislative and congressional districts back to Maricopa County Superior Court, and that could mean district boundaries used in 2002 could change for the 2004 election.
In another aspect of the redistricting case, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 on Sept. 16 that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which is charged under the state Constitution with drawing political boundaries every 10 years after the U.S. Census, must surrender certain documents it has refused to release to Democrats and others who have challenged the fairness of the districts drawn up in 2002.
On Sept. 12, Judge Roslyn Silver of the U.S. District Court for Arizona ruled that issues at stake in the lawsuit center on the Arizona Constitution, not federal statutory or constitutional law, and therefore must be heard in state court.
That means the lawsuit is now back where it began, before Judge Kenneth Fields of the Maricopa County Superior Court. The case will be heard at 9 a.m. Nov. 12.
Democrats and some members of minority groups contend that the Independent Redistricting Commission in 2002 failed to make enough legislative and congressional districts competitive between the two major political parties. Critics of the boundaries argue that the GOP has a 6 percentage-point edge in voter registrations over the Democratic Party, but Republicans ended up winning six of the eight congressional seats in 2002. The Republicans also have a 39-20 majority in the state House of Representatives (with one independent) and a 17-13 majority in the state Senate.
Article IV, Part 2, Section 1.F. of the Arizona Constitution states, ěto the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.î
Neil Wake, an attorney for the Arizonans for Fair/Legal Redistricting, an intervenor in the case, said that setting the case for trial in November means district boundaries probably wonít be settled for the 2004 election. Given the likelihood of appeals whichever way the trial court rules, the Independent Redistricting Commission would have to formally adopt any changes in the boundaries as mandated by the courts, and then would have to submit those district lines for approval by the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Wake said. Federal approval is required under the U.S. Voting Rights Act because Arizona is one of several states deemed to have a history of discrimination against minorities in elections.
Arizona voters approved creation of the Independent Redistricting Commission in 2000 as a ballot measure, which won on the premise that the redistricting process had become too political in the hands of state legislators, who had previously drawn district lines.
Although the Independent Redistricting Commission is separate from the Legislature, it is still performing a legislative-like duty and therefore has a ělegislative privilegeî that provides a degree of confidentiality to its decision-making, as do legislators, the state Court of Appeals ruled in an appeal filed by several critics of the 2002 district boundaries. Paul Eckstein, an attorney representing one of several plaintiffs in the case, argued that numerous e-mails and other documents exchanged between the Redistricting Commission and its consulting firm, National Demographics Corp., should be made available to the plaintiffs.
Presiding Judge Ann A. Scott Timmer of the Court of Appeals wrote for the 3-0 majority that the Redistricting Commission indeed does have legislative privilege, but then decided that the privilege had been waived when the commission decided to use its consultants as expert witnesses. Judges G. Murray Snow and Sheldon H. Weisberg joined Judge Timmer in the unanimous decision.
The lawsuit over the district boundaries before Judge Fields is case no. CV2002-004380. The special action that decided the issue of legislative privilege for the Redistricting Commission is 1 CA-SA 03-0085. ó
Why are so few politicians clamoring to be the next mayor of Phoenix?
This is not intended as a knock on the two candidates who have declared themselves, former city Councilman Phil Gordon and businessman Randy Pullen.
Gordon has done a masterful job of positioning himself as the heir apparent. As a councilman, he has been a hard-working problem solver. And he has assiduously courted the political powers that shape municipal elections.
Pullen has a sharp, analytical mind. The city benefits when he applies it to municipal issues.
Nevertheless, these aren't two guys to scare others with political ambition out of a race.
Pullen is no longer a complete political novice, having learned the ropes somewhat in a losing bid in the last mayoral election against incumbent Skip Rimsza. But, as bright as he is, he hasn't demonstrated much in the way of political skills.
And while Gordon has skillfully put together the building blocks of a successful city campaign, he's a pretty pedestrian political persona. Not the sort of towering force that intimidates other wannabes.
This is the first open seat for mayor since 1994. Ordinarily an open seat sets lose a pack of politicians in heat.
In 2002, there were three open congressional seats, due to redistricting and a retirement. All three attracted a crowded field of talent and ambition.
Mayor of Phoenix would seem to be a plum political job. You instantly become one of the most visible and recognizable politicians in the state.
And it can be a good launching pad for other positions. Margaret Hance, longtime Phoenix mayor in the 1970s and early 1980s, was widely regarded as a formidable potential candidate for either U.S. Senate or governor, although she never made the run.
More recently, both Terry Goddard and Paul Johnson parlayed the position into a gubernatorial nomination.
The position is weak in formal power. The only authority the mayor of Phoenix really has is to set the council agenda, and the council can even usurp that with sufficient votes.
But, nevertheless, those who have occupied the post have gotten things done. Hance, Goddard and Johnson all largely dominated events during their tenure, while establishing strong regional and even statewide presences.
And Rimsza shares with Fife Symington the distinction of being the most consequential Arizona politician over the past decade.
In fact, Rimsza has been sort of the anti-Symington, perfecting the art of small turnout, special elections to increase taxes faster than Symington had cut them.
The nature of the job makes it unattractive to conservative ladder-climbers, as the Rimsza example illustrates. You make your mark by building things and spending money.
But it ought to appeal to two other categories of politicians whose ambitions are otherwise largely blocked: Anglo Democrats and moderate to liberal Republicans.
Ethnic gerrymandering has greatly diminished Congress as a political opportunity for ambitious Anglo Democrats. In 2002, the Democrat candidate for all three districts Democrats had a chance to win was Latino.
And to overcome the Republican registration advantage in a statewide election, a Democrat usually needs a larger launching pad than a state legislative district. Moreover, legislative districts have also, to a considerable degree, been ethnically gerrymandered.
Phoenix, by contrast, has a smaller Republican registration advantage and a history of ignoring registration for nonpartisan city offices.
It also has an open, nonpartisan primary. That gives Anglo Democrats a pretty clear shot. And moderate to liberal Republicans don't have to run the ideological gauntlet of conservative voters who dominate Republican primaries.
Mayor of Phoenix should be a hot political ticket: a chance to get some things done while earning nonpartisan credentials and gaining considerable political visibility.
So, why isn't there greater interest in the open seat? There was a minor boomlet for Betsey Bayless, but that apparently was driven more by those unhappy with Gordon than actual interest by Bayless.
But, other than that, nothing much. To a political journalist with admittedly a vested interest in a livelier race, it's a mystery.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOENIX - New legislative districts that favor minorities and Republicans have received federal clearance for use in the next four elections unless a court rules otherwise.
The Department of Justice notified the state Independent Redistricting Commission in a Feb. 10 letter that the department had no Voting Rights Act objections to the post-census redistricting map.
Because of Arizona's history of voting rights violations, the state had to submit the map for a check of compliance with the voting act's protections for ethnic and racial minorities.
The commission submitted the map in August and provided additional information in December.
Except for technical changes to eliminate minor deviations in population and to conform with local voting precincts, the map is virtually identical to a court-approved interim map used for last year's elections for the 30-member Senate and the 60-member House.
The interim map included changes made to satisfy Justice Department objections that portions of the commission's original map violated minorities' voting rights.
A trial is scheduled in Maricopa County Superior Court in July on separate challenges mounted by Democrats, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and the city of Flagstaff.
Those challenges contend the commission violated the constitutional amendment creating the commission by not creating enough competitive districts or not doing enough to protect minorities and other communities of interest.
The map's 30 districts include nine dominated by minorities, up from seven on the map used during most of the 1990s. The districts also include 19 leaning Republican and 11 where Democrats have an edge in voter registration. Five were judged by a commission consultant to be competitive between Republicans and Democrats, including four leaning toward Republicans in registration. Republicans held majorities in both chambers of the Legislature through most of the 1990s, and the GOP recaptured the Senate and bolstered its House majority in November.
The five-member commission was appointed by state officials under a constitutional amendment that voters passed in 2000 to take redistricting away from the Legislature. Commission Chairman Steve Lynn, a Tucson utility executive, said the Department of Justice's action validates the commission's position that a Voting Rights Act requirement to put a priority on creating minority-dominated districts limited the number of districts that could realistically be competitive for both major parties.
That was because many Democratic voters were concentrated to form minority-dominated districts, leaving most other districts favoring Republicans.
"What's very clear about the law was this was a legislative process that was shifted from the Legislature to the commission by the people, and as a legislative process we had the ability to use our judgment," Lynn said. "That's what we did."
Michael Mandell, a lawyer for Hispanic Democrats who filed a challenge, said the federal action does not affect his clients' claims that the commission could have created more competitive districts while maintaining minority-dominated districts.
"They didn't want to make what they called wholesale changes in the map," he said.
The federal action was expected because the department had reset the "benchmark" - the starting point used to measure the impact of the map's changes - to the interim map, Mandell said.
The U.S. Department of Justice rejected the state's legislative redistricting plan Monday, saying it dilutes minority voting strength - possibly intentionally. Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd Jr. said five districts - four in Maricopa County and one in Pima County - suffered a net reduction in the number of Hispanics of voting age. He said the Independent Redistricting Commission, which drew the lines, was unable to show that its actions do not violate federal law. At a court hearing Monday, a panel of three federal judges reviewed the Department of Justice objections and gave the commission several days to come up with a new map that complies with the Voting Rights Act. The judges will review that plan next week, as well as an alternative expected to be submitted by a coalition of Hispanics and Democrats.
The Tucson district affected, District 29, comprises the South and Southeast sides. That district has a Hispanic voting age population of 45.1 percent, while the district in that area before had a 55.3 percent Hispanic edge.
While the Justice Department is objecting to only five districts, the net effect is broader: It means that the commission - and ultimately the court - will have to pull some voters from other districts to come up with a plan that aids the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice. And because all 30 districts must have equal populations, that means altering the lines of at least the adjoining districts, creating a possible domino effect.
With time running out before the June 12 filing deadline for candidates, the judges did agree to temporarily adjust state laws, allowing would-be officeholders to gather signatures from either the old or the new legislative districts. That will ensure that they can qualify for the ballot in whatever district they end up in, once the court approves maps for the 2002 election.
One district that particularly got Boyd's attention includes parts of eastern Maricopa County and much of Pinal County.
The district that was there before had Hispanics at 30.2 percent of voting population; now they are 25.7 percent. Boyd said that was due to taking the towns of San Manuel and Oracle, both with large Hispanic populations, out of the district and replacing them with the entire city of Casa Grande and virtually all of Apache Junction, the latter nearly 88 percent Anglo.
Boyd said the circumstances raise concerns that the action not only has a negative effect in diluting Hispanic voting strength but "may also have been taken, at least in part, with a retrogressive intent."
That contention drew a sharp response from commission Chairman Steve Lynn. "There was no intent ... and never will be any intent to cause retrogression on the part of the commission," he said.
Other problems found by the Department of Justice:
Districts 13 and 14: Splitting what had been a southwest Phoenix district where Hispanics made up 65 percent of the voting age population into two others with 51.2 and 50.6 percent respectively.
District 15: Putting together a central Phoenix district in a way that Hispanics, who had a large edge in the district they were in, are being combined with Anglos from an adjacent district.
But the Justice Department found no merit in the claim by the Navajo and San Carlos Apache tribes that the legislative maps unfairly dilute Native American voting strength. That conclusion means that, at least for this year's election, the district lines in Northern Arizona will remain unchanged - and Flagstaff residents will become a minority in a Navajo-dominated district.
Attorneys for the tribes said they will renew their objections in state court. That trial, however, is not set to begin until January.
A panel of three federal judges is looking for a way to escape having to decide the lines for the state's upcoming legislative races.
The judges said they want to hear Monday morning from the U.S. Justice Department on the status of its review of the state's redistricting plan.
Arizona is required to get "preclearance" of any changes in election law - including its districts - because of a past record of discrimination against minority voters.
The order says that if a decision on clearance is "impending" then the judges will back off, at least for the time being. Judge Roslyn Silver, who chairs the three-judge panel, said the court may even extend the June 12 deadline in state law for candidates to file their nominating papers to await the Justice Department ruling.
If the state gets the required preclearance, the federal case is likely over. Even foes of the current lines acknowledge Justice Department action allows the state to use the lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission for at least this year's election.
But if the plan does not get the preclearance, the situation becomes more complicated. Silver said the first question will be whether she and her colleagues should simply approve the commission's lines for this year because there is little time to consider anything else. That is the position of Lisa Hauser, the commission's attorney. Silver said, though, that if the Justice Department finds the commission plan to be illegal, that is not an option. She said the judges could simply tinker with the commission's lines, adopt an alternative offered by challengers to those lines - or perhaps even devise their own plan from scratch.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the commission contesting the validity of the legislative districts. The Navajo and San Carlos Apache tribes contend the districts dilute voting strength of American Indians, a contention which, if true, violates the federal Voting Rights Act. While the legislative district with the Navajos has a majority of Indians, the attorneys argue that non-Indians are more likely to vote, wiping out that edge.
Three federal judges have been selected to set interim political district boundaries for the upcoming election and will begin preliminary work Friday.
Now the jockeying begins to convince the panel which maps will best serve Arizona voters.
The Independent Redistricting Commission will submit the political districts it sent to the U.S. Justice Department, whose delay in ruling on the maps has forced the federal court intervention. Candidates have been worried and confused because they must submit nominating petitions signed by voters in their home districts, wherever they may be, by June 12.
But a second set of maps, drawn by lawyers for the Navajo Nation and endorsed by a coalition of Hispanic leaders, could also receive strong consideration.
The Navajo maps preserve nine state legislative districts that consist mainly of minority voters and establish districts that are competitive between Republicans and Democrats, said Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor and member of the coalition challenging the commission's maps.
Attorneys challenging the maps recently discovered that an analysis of the competitiveness of the commission's districts used faulty data. The Navajos felt the commission's map unfairly diluted American Indian voting strength by putting the city of Flagstaff into the same district as the tribe.
"We tried to come up with a map that met the issues of the minority coalition as well as ours," said Judy Dworkin, attorney for the Navajos.
The three judges who must decide are U.S. District Court Judges Rosalyn Silver of Phoenix, who will lead the panel; Susan Bolton of Phoenix; and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marsha Berzon of San Francisco. Hauser will ask the panel to expedite the hearing so a plan can be approved by next week.
Consultants for the state's political mapmakers admitted Sunday that their tests of voting districts' competitiveness were flawed by inaccurate data.
Fixing the problems and providing an accurate portrait of voting patterns in the newly drawn legislative districts could take another week or two to complete, a consultant told members of the Independent Redistricting Commission. The consultants from National Demographics Corp. must re-create from scratch a voter registration database rather than using the flawed information it had received from Legislative Council, a research arm of the Legislature. That data had lumped together active and inactive voters in several counties, including Maricopa, showing 300,000 more voters than took part in any recent election.
"We identified errors of such magnitude that we have now abandoned that database," NDC consultant Florence Adams said.
Adams said she had not pinpointed how the errors occurred or why they weren't discovered. The error was found by attorneys for a coalition of Democrats challenging the maps in court.
The commission's legislative maps are still under review by the Justice Department. The commission has asked a panel of federal judges to approve an interim set of districts for the upcoming election in case the Justice Department does not approve the maps in the next few weeks, or orders more work.
Redistricting Commission Chairman Steve Lynn said the competitiveness tests likely won't affect this election but could be needed if the commission must redraw maps.
A judge has delayed until January a trial on the competitiveness of new redistricting maps, apparently clearing the way for at least the new congressional districts to be used this year.
Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court granted a motion today by Republican interveners who had argued that a fair and thorough trial on competitiveness challenges by Hispanics and Democrats couldn't begin next week as scheduled without disrupting this fall's election.
Any map changes required to be made after the January trial would not apply until the 2004 election.
Officials and attorneys said the ruling means a new eight-district congressional map can be used this year.
The U.S. Justice Department had already found the map to be in compliance with Voting Rights Act protections for minority voters.
With the ruling, "there is no challenge to the congressional map that would affect the 2002 election," said Neil Wake, a lawyer for the Republican interveners.
The postponement also removes one obstacle from use of the 30-district legislative map this year, though the Justice Department has yet to rule on that map's Voting Rights Act compliance.
Until the voting rights issue is resolved, election officials still cannot certify legislative candidates' ballot status or eligibility for public financing, state Elections Director Jessica Funkhouser said. "We're still stuck."
The Independent Redistricting Commission filed suit Wednesday in federal court, asking for permission to use the legislative map this year on an interim basis only.
"We are optimistic we can do that," said commission Chairman Steve Lynn.
Both maps generally favor Republicans who hold a 43-37 edge over Democrats among registered voters statewide. For example, the GOP has the edge in four or five congressional districts and Democrats a clear advantage in two districts.
In both maps, the commission's creation of more minority-dominated districts than the state now has tended to concentrate Democrats in relatively few districts overall.
Lynn welcomed Fields' ruling on a motion that largely paralleled one made earlier by the commission's own lawyers.
"There were too many issues that were in flux and in play for a real hearing of the facts to take place," Lynn said. "Nothing good could have come out of rushing to that sort of judgment."
David Braun, a lawyer for challengers to the congressional map, said Wake wore down Fields with arguments that the case was not ready to go to trial.
"We were ready to go and we're still ready to go," Braun said. "The citizens are being deprived of what they voted for in 2000. They are not going to have competitive districts."
The commission was created under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature.
Braun said he doubted his side would appeal Fields' ruling.
A Republican Party official called the postponement a victory.
"They've got lines that the people agree with ... and they're going to be the law of the land," said GOP Executive Director Brian Murray.
Paul Hegarty, state Democratic Party political director, said party officials were disappointed that the state would be using maps regarded as unfair but would continue efforts to field strong candidates for both congressional and legislative races.
"We'll get through this election and then worry about the next eight years," Hegarty said.
The commission is scheduled to meet Sunday to get an update from consultants on the extent of a problem with voter registration data used for the competitiveness analysis of the maps.
Even if a significant data problem affected the analysis of the legislative map, Lynn said he would still favor its interim use to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution's one-person one-vote requirement.
The whole issue of whether the commission did not put enough emphasis on creating competitive districts will go away if Voting Rights Act concerns force the commission to put more minority Democrats into minority-dominated districts, Lynn said.
On the Net: Independent Redistricting Commission: http://www.azredistricting.org/
The Independent Redistricting Commission filed a complaint in federal court on Wednesday asking that new legislative district maps be used on an interim basis in September's primary elections.
"Clearly there's a sense of urgency," commission Chairman Steve Lynn said. "We realized that there was a small window of opportunity, and we jumped through it."
A trial in Maricopa County Superior Court had been scheduled to start today on challenges to the new district boundaries. But that trial was postponed Wednesday in anticipation of the commission making a federal complaint.
While federal voting-rights monitors have certified the congressional district maps drawn by the commission, they haven't yet decided on the legislative version.
There are also questions about whether the competitiveness analysis performed on the legislative maps is valid. The commission was told of an apparent discrepancy in data used for the analysis.
With the candidate filing deadline for 2002 elections only about five weeks away, the state needs a federal court order allowing the current maps be used on an interim basis, said Jessica Funkhouser, the state elections director.
"We're delighted they're pursuing this," she said of the commission. "The candidates need to know what's going on, and they need more than a day or two to prepare for elections."
Arizona's political mapmakers on Sunday ordered consultants to get to the bottom of alleged mistakes that have called election districts into question.
Members of the Independent Redistricting Commission, however, wouldn't say whether they would ask a federal judge to approve interim maps for the rapidly approaching election. Without an interim plan, candidates who must qualify for fall elections by June 12 remain in limbo.
Commission members met behind closed doors for more than two hours Sunday afternoon in advance of a court hearing scheduled to begin today. The emergency meeting was called after a coalition that opposes the proposed districts discovered possible errors in data used to draw the lines.
The consultants will comb their maps for any other possible errors over the next week.
The commission also ordered an investigation by the state Procurement Office to find out if the possible error violated the consultant's contract.
"I want to know what the error was and how it affects what we did," said Commissioner James Huntwork, a Phoenix lawyer.
The alleged error occurred when Election Data Services, a Washington firm subcontracted to help create the maps, apparently used flawed data by lumping together active and inactive voters in Maricopa County. The result showed more than 300,000 more voters than took part in any recent election. The overcounts relating to Democrats made it appear the commission's districts were more competitive than they really were, critics say.
EDS President Kimble Brace acknowledged that he may have used flawed data, but said it was not his fault. He said the commission was trying to save money when its primary consultants, National Demographics Corp., told him to use voter data that had been gathered by the Legislative Council, a research arm of the Legislature, instead of gathering it himself from county sources.
Brace said pinpointing where voters lived in Maricopa County was difficult because inactive voters were not differentiated from active voters.
Commissioner Josh Hall called Brace's claim that the commission was trying to save money "pure hogwash."
"If we knew he was just going to take the data from . . . council without verifying it, we would have just paid him 10 bucks for the CD," Hall said.
Brace has not been paid his $275,000 contract.
The Justice Department has given preliminary approval to the commission's congressional map, but is still scrutinizing the legislative maps.
Chairman Steve Lynn refused to discuss what happened in the session, calling the conversations "privileged communication."
Just when it appeared nothing worse could happen to the state's new legislative boundaries, an error discovered Thursday could mean they would have to be scrapped and redrawn.
The mistake means further chaos for the state's election system. As filing deadlines approach, candidates don't know where to collect the signatures and donations they need to run for office.
Authorities said the error is believed to have occurred when Election Data Services, a Washington, D.C., firm hired to help create new district maps, apparently used flawed data by lumping together active and inactive voters. That could affect the question of whether the legislative districts are competitive as required by the Arizona Constitution.
The consulting company could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
The development probably won't affect Arizona's eight congressional districts because the U.S. Department of Justice has already approved their boundaries.
A critic of the redistricting process, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, called the latest revelation "a major embarrassment."
"If they have messed this up, it makes you wonder what else they've used wrong figures on," said Wilcox, a member of a coalition of Hispanics that has claimed the legislative maps as being too favorable to Republicans.
Because of the uncertainty, state Elections Director Jessica Funkhouser said the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission should appeal to a federal judge to approve interim districts so candidates can proceed with their election plans.
"Interim lines were submitted to a federal district court (10 years ago), and it needs to be happening now," she said. "I think it's the inevitable thing that's going to happen, the sooner the better so we can put on an election, and everybody has a fair shot at it."
The snafu, discovered during interviews for a redistricting trial scheduled to start next week in Maricopa County Superior Court, could delay by two weeks or more the approval of district boundaries. Candidates must file their nomination petitions by June 12, and it's uncertain whether the boundaries will be known even then.
Arizona voters created the independent commission in 2000 as a way of removing from incumbent lawmakers the political task of mapmaking. But the public process has been littered with delays, lawsuits and controversy.
Late Thursday, attorneys for the commission asked Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court to delay the trial until it is known how much the maps would have to be changed. The trial, set to begin next Thursday, is to determine whether the maps are sufficiently competitive as judged by the closeness in voter registration between Republicans and Democrats.
Lisa Hauser, the Republican attorney for the commission, said that under the circumstances, the decision not to delay the trial "doesn't make any sense."
"It's pretty bizarre. We need our database rebuilt and have the commission decide what to do next," she said.
Steve Lynn, chairman of the redistricting commission, laid out three possible scenarios in light of the error discovered Thursday:
ď The new voting data would be reconsidered, and the information would not change the boundaries of the state's 30 legislative districts.
ď The effects of the error would be confined to certain parts of the state and would require only minor tinkering.
ď The commission would have to "recreate the entire legislative map."
When asked if the revised boundaries could be determined in time for this year's election, Lynn said it's "very unlikely that could occur."
Lynn, who usually avoids critical comments in the press, harshly criticized Elections Data Services.
"EDS screwed up," said Lynn, the panel's lone Independent. "I am shocked. Clearly, they didn't perform."
Records show EDS has a contract worth about $280,000 with the state. Redistricting officials told The Republic that EDS competed for the main contract for drawing up the maps, which eventually went to a California-based firm. That contract is about $1.1 million.
Sen. Ramon Valadez, D-Tucson, said the state should consider suing EDS.
"If we have to come back and redraw the entire map, the state . . . needs to take a look at filing a lawsuit against EDS," Valadez said. "They are being paid with public money, and we counted on them to do a good job."
Candidates have been confused about where they can gather nominating petitions and qualifying contributions for Clean Elections, both of which must come from registered voters in their districts.
Keely Varvel, coordinated campaign director for the Arizona Democratic Party, has been advising candidates to "play it smart."
"It's forcing them to collect signatures and contributions in both the old and new boundaries," Varvel said. "It creates logistical problems and uncertainty, but I think people are still really excited about this election, and I don't think its discouraging people from running on either side."
Don't expect the U.S. Department of Justice to rubber-stamp Arizona's maps of new legislative and congressional districts soon.
A month after receiving the maps, the department sent a letter asking for more information, including data related to Hispanic voters. The Independent Redistricting Commission fired off a four-page response telling the Justice Department that Arizona's election returns don't include a breakdown of votes cast by race or Spanish surname. The confusion was cleared up late Monday, but it's the latest setback to the redistricting process.
The latest delay means the 60-day clock to approve the maps has just started, putting Arizona's new political boundaries for legislative and congressional districts in jeopardy. If the department asks for more information, it could restart the clock. Candidates for Congress and the state Legislature are supposed to submit their petition signatures by June 12. The problem is those signatures are based on the number of registered voters in each legislative district. And the makeup of those districts will not be known for several weeks.
"We're watching this very closely. All these things work on a very precise timeline leading up to Election Day," said Warren Whitney, deputy secretary of state. "Everybody is interested in getting this information as soon as possible."
A five-person panel adopted the maps in November, but they weren't mailed to the Justice Department until the end of January. The redistricting commission said its submittal was the most comprehensive in state history.
Jose de Jesus Rivera, a co-counsel for the commission, remains confident that the maps will be approved quickly.
But there could be other obstacles. A coalition of prominent Hispanics is planning to sue in state court, saying the 30-piece legislative map should be more politically competitive while protecting minority-dominated districts. The number of legislative districts consisting mostly of minorities rose from seven to nine in the new maps.
Jim Pederson, who spent $600,000 of his own money on the independent redistricting initiative, said the string of delays disgusts him.
"It's a mess," said Pederson, who's the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.
The redistricting commission carved out the legislative and congressional maps over the summer. It was the first time the mapmaking was done by a citizen-driven panel instead of by legislators, but the results left some with a bad taste in their mouths.
"We're already in March," said Sen. Pete Rios, D-Hayden. "We're getting very, very close to June when people are supposed to submit their nominating petitions.
"It's getting a little scary."
The maps are in the mail.
Two months after the Independent Redistricting Commission wrapped up its work, Arizona's proposed new political districts were shipped off to Washington last week. There the Justice Department will look them over to ensure that minority Arizonans have been treated fairly.
No doubt politicians across Arizona are anxious.
Candidates, after all, must file their nominating petitions for the fall elections by June 12. It would be handy, if you're running for the Legislature or Congress, to know what district you are in before you try to run there.
To them we say this: Chill.
The undertaking to remap the state was enormous. The districts were born not in the basement of the Capitol, but in public meeting halls and hearing rooms throughout Arizona.
Naturally, it took time to assemble all that information to fully explain to Justice why the commission did what it did and why it believes the maps should be approved.
The Justice Department will have 60 days to make a decision. If there are questions, the time could be extended. However, commission attorney Lisa Hauser is hoping the voluminous submission will cover any conceivable question.
In all, 33 3-inch-thick binders of material were shipped off, along with audio tapes and CDs containing all the proposals, all the voter breakdowns and all the transcripts of all the hearings.
"It's definitely taken longer than it did (10 years ago)," Hauser said.
"The people who were good enough to participate in this process, their voice is going all the way to Washington. It's not a hide-the-ball kind of thing. We want them to know what people here wanted."
For that, it seems well worth the