The Gila County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to let the public, between now and Oct. 3, have a chance to comment on the redistricting map proposed by the Tonto Apache Tribe and others, despite the qualms of its own consultants.
In a 2-1 vote, supervisors agreed to let the public comment on four proposed revisions of the boundaries of the three county districts, including both the original Tonto Apache map and a version of that map “tweaked” by its consultants, which they think will make it more attractive to the U.S. Justice Department. The Justice Department must review all changes to voting districts in Arizona due to past problems in complying with the with Voting Rights Act. The board also approved maps proposed by citizens K. Feezor and T. Moody.
The supervisors also approved for submission to the public three proposed revisions of the Gila Community College district lines, which have provoked far less controversy. People can see the maps by going to http://co.gila.az.us/
“I don’t see a problem with all four (supervisor) plans floating ... then we make the hard decision (to vote for one plan to send to the Department of Justice) after comments from these four plans,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.
The Tonto Apache map drew the surprising support of Supervisor Shirley Dawson, although her comments made it likely she won’t vote for the plan already endorsed by the Payson and Star Valley councils.
“I will not vote for something that will get thrown out by Justice,” said Dawson.
Supervisor Mike Pastor voted against even seeking public comment on the Tonto Apache map, which would make significant changes in his district.
He cited comments by the county’s consultants who advised that federal civil rights lawyers would not approve district lines that reduced the percentage of minority votes in Pastor’s or Dawson’s districts, both dominated by south-county voters.
“I think the Tonto Apache map would not fit into the requirements of the Department of Justice (DOJ),” said Pastor.
The redistricting map the Tonto Apache originally submitted created a 6.94-percent increase in voting-age Hispanics in Pastor’s District 2, while lowering the percentage of voting-age Hispanics in Dawson’s District 3 by 7.14 percent. At the same time, the map increased the amount of Native American voters in District 3 to .68 percent while dropping the percentage by .53 percent in District 2.
The Tonto Apache Tribe asked to be moved from Dawson’s District 2, over to Pastor’s District 3 to be united with the large San Carlos Apache Reservation in south county.
However, the Tonto Apache wanted to include in the shift the rest of the north-county precinct in which the 200-person reservation sits, and even out populations by moving Hispanics living near Winkelman into Pastor’s already heavily Hispanic district. The shift would consolidate Apache voters in Dawson’s district and Hispanic voters in Pastor’s district, but lower the overall share of minority voters in Dawson’s district.
The original Tonto Apache map balances the voting districts between the north and the south county by creating a northern District 1, a southern District 2, and a District 3 equally balanced between the north and the south voting interests.
The other two maps continue to divide the county into a northern and two southern voting districts, just like the current boundaries.
If the supervisors did adopt the Tonto map, 47 percent of the District 3 voters would live in the north and 53 percent in the south. About 89 percent of the District 1 voters would live in the north and 11 percent in the south, according to an analysis by Max Feezor, a member of the now disbanded Citizens Redistricting Committee.
The supervisors, consultants and public agree that joining the San Carlos, White Mountain and Tonto Apache tribes into one voting district makes sense. Currently the Tonto sit in District 2, while the other tribes vote in District 3.
The controversy comes in the Tonto plan to move heavily Hispanic Hayden-Winkelman voting districts from District 3 to District 2.
“I have talked to several Hayden-Winkelman people. They feel very isolated. They don’t believe there is a reason to move into District 2,” said Dawson.
That shift would increase the Hispanic voting block in District 2, but would reduce the total number of minority voters in District 3 — which the consultants said might provoke a rejection of the plan by the Justice Department.
However, in the version of the Tonto map “tweaked” by the consultants, only the Tonto reservation itself shifted, which made so little difference that south-county voters would have continued to dominate two of the three districts — even though a majority of the county’s population now lives in the north.
“Before our workshop, I had a call from a (Hayden-Winkelman) lady and man who wanted to be moved to District 2,” said Martin.
Complicating the issue of what the voters want was the extremely low public attendance at prior meetings the Citizens Redistricting Committee held in Hayden-Winkelman, said Dawson.
Once the board opened Tuesday’s meeting to the public, Tonto Apache Tribal Council member Vivian Burdette said that the views of such a small number of voters in Hayden-Winkelman wouldn’t convince her people to abandon the map the tribe had submitted. She requested the public consider the original Tonto Apache map to give people in Hayden-Winkelman a chance to weigh in on which voting district they would prefer to join.
“I would like to know the concerns down south,” said Burdette.
When it came time to vote, Pastor voted against submitting all four maps to the public for comment, while Martin and Dawson voted together.
“I think we’re beating our heads against the wall with such a huge difference (in voting minority blocs),” said Pastor.
The way the vote split surprised members of the public who attended the meeting.
Bob Dalby, a former member of the Redistricting Committee, felt Pastor would have voted with Martin due to his district being relatively unaffected by redistricting plans.
“Shirley’s could be up for grabs,” said Dalby.
The supervisors unanimously voted to seek public comment on three alternative community college voting district maps. The community college board has five districts which did not face the same problems juggling minority-voting blocs.
None of the three maps caused a significant decline in minority voting blocs — but all three maps would effectively shift the political balance of power to the north — which reflects population growth in the past decade.
The Gila Community College Board had been all but immobilized by north-south divisions in the past several years, with three of the five districts oriented toward the south.
The supervisors will vote on final maps to submit to the DOJ on Oct. 3, said Linda Eastlick, director of Gila County Elections.