The committee charged with drawing up new district boundaries for the board of supervisors decided on Friday to toss the smoking political ember back into the laps of the supervisors.
The Redistricting Committee on July 29 voted to submit six maps to supervisors without ranking their preferences, three each for the community college and supervisorial districts.
“We’re not going to rank the maps, we’ll let the supervisors rank them,” said Robert Sanchez, chairman of the committee.
The three proposed maps for the five Gila Community College Districts spurred little debate. All three would shift political clout decisively to north county in accordance with recent population changes.
However, the maps for the three county supervisorial districts provoked much more discussion, mainly due to the map submitted by the Tonto Apache Tribe that would both alter minority percentages and shift the balance of political power to the north.
The committee debated whether reducing the number of minority voters in one district and increasing them in the neighboring district will run afoul of the federal government’s interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.
“The Tonto Apache map is outside of the DOJ (Department of Justice) requirements,” said Sanchez.
A lengthy discussion over the map submitted by the Tonto Apache Tribe bounced back and forth due to the unique situation the Tonto Apache map created. Committee members said that never before has a minority group specifically requested to be moved into a new district while moving members of a different minority group out of that district.
“I believe what the Tonto Apache has put together the DOJ has never seen before,” said James Feezor, who drew up one of the alternative maps approved by the committee on Friday.
“We are looking at placating 250 tribal members and you’re screwing District 3 in terms of equalization voting,” said Robert Dalby.
“We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” said Sanchez, who added that the minority percentages and population balance in Feezor’s map were “almost ideal.”
Both the Tonto Apache’s map and the map proposed by Feezor would likely shift political power on the three-member board of supervisors to the north. Both maps would move some north-county voters from District 2 to District 3. This would effectively create a north county District 1, a mostly south county District 2 and District 3 that would lean north, but also include most Native American voters in the county.
Both the Feezor and Tonto Apache maps would move the roughly 200 Tonto Apache residents from District 2 to District 3. But the Tonto Apache wanted to also shift Hispanic voters from District 3 to District 2, which could reduce the overall minority percentage in District 3 from about 52 percent to about 44 percent — even as it increased the minority percentage in District 2 by a roughly similar amount.
The Feezor map addresses the Tonto Apache issue of moving the Tonto Apache Tribe into the same voting district as the White Mountain and San Carlos Apaches, but does not displace as many Hispanics as the Tonto Apache map. Nor does the Feezor map move Gisela into the same district as the Tonto Apache, a request the tribe made due to those lands being ancestral lands, said the committee.
The challenge for the consultants and the supervisors will be to submit a map that will allow Hispanics to continue electing their candidate of choice, while keeping the intent of the Tonto Apache Tribe intact, said Linda Eastlick, director of Gila County elections.
The final supervisor map the committee discussed was the Tom Moody map, which features only minimal changes in current district boundaries.
“The tribes aren’t together, but the derivation of the population is good. This is a different map from the other two. This map says to the board of supervisors, ‘We appreciate our Native American population, but here is a different map,’” said Sanchez.
After this comment, the committee voted to move forward on the three supervisor maps as submitted.