About 30 people debated how to respond to Gila County’s population shift to the north dominated the conversation at the second of six public meetings on redistricting last Thursday, Sept. 8, in Payson.
Much of the debate last week centered on the Tonto Apache map, now labeled as Draft Plan D. That map would move the Tonto Apache Tribe from District 2 to District 3, increasing Native American clout in that district.
However, the map would also move a block of south county Hispanic voters from District 3 to District 2, increasing the Hispanic block in District 2 — but decreasing the total minority population in District 3.
“The whole intent of the tribe is to make District 3 a swing vote, District 2 a Democratic vote and District 1 a Republican vote,” Shirley Dye said.
Dye, reported that at a previous public session in Tonto Basin, one participant called her a “segregationist” because she supported a map proposed by the Tonto Apache Tribe that would lower overall minority percentages in one district, but increase minority percentages in a neighboring district.
Much of the discussion focused on whether the Justice Department will insist on lumping together Hispanic and Native American voters in its analysis of whether any given map dilutes minority representation.
“From my research, a minority group has the same culture and language,” she said. Mixing the two distinct minority groups, Hispanic and Native American and claiming they had any similar patterns had no precedence in any of her research.
Dye didn’t feel it right that the board of supervisors 10 years ago combined Hispanics and Native Americans in their analysis in drawing the current district lines.
However, the county’s consultants said they believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will lump those groups together in any analysis.
Mac Feezor wondered if a meeting had happened in Hayden yet to ask if Hispanic voters in the Winkelman area wanted to shift into a Globe-based district that already has a big Hispanic population.
“Has anyone come up with case law or something they want to stay away from?” he said.
Linda Eastlick, director of Gila County Elections, responded the Hayden-Winkelman-Christmas meeting would be held on Monday. However, she said that the San Carlos tribe has already told her office that they didn’t understand why the Hispanics in Winkelman would be split from the tribe.
She reiterated the Department of Justice would have to examine the plans and the federal guidelines would determine what the county could do in redrawing voting lines.
Kay Miller wanted to know if comments would be sent to the DOJ along with the maps selected by the Gila board of supervisors.
“All comments go as part of the submission,” said Eastlick.
Dye wanted to know whether the public could submit their own, additional plans if the board of supervisors rejected the Tonto Apache map.
“Will a separate submission be allowed? No. (The board of supervisors) have the legal right to make the submission,” said Eastlick.
Eastlick said the board would take public comments into consideration at its Sept. 13 work session.
The public is welcome to attend. If one map doesn’t satisfy the board, the supervisors may want to look at redrawing a map to submit, she said.
Nancy Gartner said that the maps should reflect population shifts that mean about 60 percent of the population now lives in the north — although south county voters dominate two of the three districts.
“The ideal population of each supervisor district is 17,000 plus. It all depends on what you call north and we cannot reduce the minority voting population,” said Eastlick.
Peter Morgan said, “My issue is honesty and integrity and I don’t see it.”
After fielding comments on the supervisorial district, Eastlick moved on to the community college maps.
Dye preferred the Plan 1 map because it was contiguous and balanced. She felt Plan 2 and 3 “did some weird stuff with lines.”
Christine Harrison agreed with Dye that Plan 1 seemed more, “elegant.” She asked if the community college maps had to follow the same rules about deviation as the supervisor maps.
“As far as total population deviation, the general rule is a 10 percent deviation,” said Eastlick, which is to say 5 percent above or below the ideal average.
Feezor said prior to redrawing voting lines, the community college districts had started with a 25 percent population difference.
Larry Stephenson, Star Valley resident and Gila Community College board member thanked Eastlick, her staff and the citizens committee for their work.
“I think all three community college maps are acceptable. I know the committee felt the college map process was an easier time than the supervisor maps,” said Stephenson.
Harrison joined Stephenson in thanking Eastlick for being gracious when at times the process got “hairy.”
“We might not all agree with everyone, but we need to hear each other,” said Eastlick.
The public may make comment by mail, submitting comments at Supervisor Tommie Martin’s office or through the Gila County Web site: http://co.gila.az.us/index.html.
The last day to submit public comments will be Friday, Sept. 16.
The board of supervisors will have a work study session on redistricting Tuesday, Sept. 20. The public may attend and make comments either in Globe or the Payson Gila County offices at 610 E. Highway 260.
The Gila County Elections Department hosted the forum at the Payson Best Western. Eastlick opened with a summary of the details of the seven district maps, four for the supervisors and three for the Gila Community College.
For the next two weeks, the county will gather public comments to help the supervisors choose which maps to send to the U.S. Department of Justice to analyze according to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.