A citizen’s plea to respect the differences in voting patterns between Native American and Hispanic voting blocks set off a debate between consultants and Gila County supervisors at a redistricting work study session on Tuesday.
The discussion centered on the map the Tonto Apache Tribe submitted to draw new boundaries for the three county supervisor districts.
The Tonto Apache want to move the North County precinct that contains their reservation into the same supervisorial district that contains the San Carlos Apache Reservation and balance out populations by shifting a group of Hispanic voters into another district. The county’s consultants have argued that the Justice Department might reject the Tonto Apache map because it would reduce the total minority population in one district.
“I’m beginning to get some indication Hayden-Winkelman agrees with the Tonto-Apache map. What would Justice say if in fact the two minorities are in favor of what the Tonto Apache are doing?” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.
“Whether people support that map, it’s not enough for Justice. The DOJ (Department of Justice) will still do their own investigation (into Section five violations of the Voting Rights Act),” said Bruce Adelson, a Washington D.C.-based consultant.
Both the Payson and Star Valley councils have formally endorsed the Tonto Apache map, which would effectively create a southern district and northern district and a swing district that leans north.
Currently, two of the three county supervisor districts are dominated by voters from South County although a majority of the people in the county now live in the north.
Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 to address grave inequalities in minority voting rights. Section 5 of the VRA requires nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — to gain approval from the attorney general or a Washington, D.C. federal court before changing any voting requirements or redrawing district lines.
Adelson referred to the Native Americans and Hispanics in Supervisorial District 3 as a “coalition voting bloc” able to vote for their candidate of choice. He therefore concluded this “coalition voting bloc” could not be split.
However, the Tonto Apache map would move Native Americans into one bloc and Hispanics into another. In doing this, the tribe reduced the total minority percentage in District 3 by about 7 percent, too large a discrepancy for Section 5 according to Adelson — even though the map increased the minority percentages in neighboring District 2.
A citizen of Hayden-Winkelman called Martin to question the Department of Justice’s definition of a “coalition voting bloc.” This citizen didn’t believe the Hispanics and Native Americans voted together at all.
“He would like proof they were a coalition. What it did for me was to make me read more to understand. The language for coalition voting comes from a Sandra Day O’Connor decision. The Voting Rights Act turns this decision on its head,” said Martin.
Adelson said “Congress overturned Georgia vs. Ashcroft. There is no numerical majority-minority definition. If the minorities have voted for their candidate of choice they are a voting bloc that has occurred in District 3. Once a minority has determined a voting pattern, that district has a coalition,” said Adelson.
Unlike the other two supervisorial district maps under consideration by the board of supervisors, the Tonto Apache map had remained virtually untouched by the consultants. Consultant Tony Sessions tweaked the other two maps to conform to DOJ requirements by shifting individual census blocks from one precinct to another to even out populations without decreasing minority percentages.
When Martin asked why the Tonto Apache map had not been changed to bring it more in line with VRA requirements, Linda Eastlick, director of elections for Gila County responded that they were waiting for direction from the board.
“We need direction on what you’d like us to reanalyze on the maps and in the next meetings you will adopt maps,” said Eastlick.
Supervisor Mike Pastor said, “I would agree with you Tommie for the consultants to look at the Tonto’s map. Why don’t we go ahead and make adjustments ... take a look at the fine-tunings of all six maps and come back on Sept. 6.”
A redistricting committee had forwarded the maps showing new boundary lines for the supervisorial districts and three others showing new boundaries for the Gila Community College board.
The remainder of the meeting was spent looking at the details of both the maps. The Gila County Board of Supervisors will meet again to vote on the maps at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 6 before releasing the final maps to the public.