A Tonto Apache-submitted Gila County supervisorial redistricting map may become the rallying point for north county residents concerned about redistricting.
The Tonto Apache have asked the county to unite the north county precinct that includes their reservation with the portions of the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations in District 3.
Under this plan, the Tonto Apache Tribe calls for shifting from District 3 to District 2 a group of mostly Hispanic voters in Globe, Winkleman and Hayden to balance out the shift of the reservation and surrounding neighborhoods.
The shifts would create an almost entirely white, north county District 1; a south county dominated District 2 with a large block of Hispanic voters; and a District 3 evenly balanced between north and south with a large block of Apache voters.
The Tonto Apache plan stands in apparent contrast to the approach of consultants hired by Gila County to help draw up maps that will not run afoul of the U.S. Justice Department, which will review all the redistricting plans in the state for compliance with the voting rights act. The county’s consultant has said the Justice Department will probably object to any plan that lowers the total percentage of minority votes in either District 2 or 3.
That logic would result in little change in the supervisorial district lines, that have produced two south-leaning districts — despite the shift of a majority of the population to north county.
The consultant’s map would result in a roughly 7-percent population difference between the largest and smallest districts. The Tonto Apache plan would produce a difference of about 1 or 2 percent.
The Payson Town Council on Thursday will consider a resolution supporting the Tonto Apache plan.
Meanwhile, the independent redistricting committee will meet tonight (Tuesday) to discuss the latest plans.
Most of the debate so far has centered on the lines for the three county supervisor seats. However, the independent redistricting committee and the board of supervisors must also redraw the lines for the Gila Community College Board, where the five district populations have gotten far more unbalanced than in the supervisor districts.
The Tonto Apache plan released last week now seems likely to emerge as the chief alternative to the consultant’s suggestion the supervisors approve only minor boundary changes. The Tonto Apache suggest moving their District 2 precinct (Payson 2) in its entirety, which includes Gisela. The shift into District 3 “unites the representative Apache Tribes in Gila County — the Tonto, San Carlos and White Mountain — within District 3 to give us a true Apache tribal vote and strengthens our actual ability to elect,” said the Tribal Council in its July 12 memo.
The Tonto then suggest moving Hispanics from District 3 into District 2, which would include precincts Globe 7, Christmas, Hayden and Winkleman. Such a move would result in a strong minority Apache voting block in District 3 and a strong minority Hispanic block in District 2, wrote the Tonto Apache Tribal Council.
The Tonto Apache plan would reduce the Hispanic and Apache voting block in District 3 from about 56 percent to more like 40 percent — even though it would increase the Apache total. And that could run afoul of federal guidelines.
Redistricting consultants for Gila County say Gila County shows a pattern of “significant racially polarized voting.” Therefore, argue the consultants, the Justice Department will likely reject any plan that reduces total minority percentages in Districts 2 and 3, which now have large enough voting blocks to elect minority supervisors.
A memo written by the county’s redistricting consultants suggests creating a new, separate precinct for the Tonto Apache and then moving that precinct to District 3 with the San Carlos Apache, according to the memo written by Bruce Adelson, of Federal Compliance Consulting.
However, the Tonto Apache Tribal Council complained such a move would separate them from Payson and Gisela.
The conflict comes down to whether the federal voting act recognizes the difference between different minority groups — like Apaches and Hispanics. The Tonto Apache maintain that they would rather be in a district with a large Apache voting block, even if the combined total of Apaches and Hispanics didn’t account for a majority of voters.
The Tribal Council said, “We believe the intent of the Voting Rights Act is to strengthen the ability of individual minorities to elect candidates of their choice, rather than risking reverse discrimination by combining different minorities and masking actual voting ability with artificial, inflated co-mingled numbers.”