The Gila County Board of Supervisors had the massive task of redistricting outlined at a work session following its Feb. 2 meeting.
County Manager James Menlove, along with Jacque Sanders, deputy county manager, explained the process, which must be completed by Dec. 1, 2021.
Menlove stressed the importance of making redistricting a very public process, which in the past has included a large committee of citizens providing input. The process following the census of 2010 and 2000 also used the services of a consultant. Menlove told the BOS the consultant cost the county more than $100,000.
Steve Christensen, supervisor for District 1, asked Menlove about the pitfalls of the county doing the redistricting with staff, such as lawsuits arising from disenfranchising certain groups of voters. Menlove said the last redistricting process was overseen by then elections director Linda Eastlick, who has since retired and it is not known where she is, but members of the committee are still in the area, including Cliff Potts, Mac Feezor and Jacque Sanders. He said Feezor had planned to attend the meeting, but had to cancel due to family obligations.
Sanders said she was not closely involved in the last redistricting process, but the citizens committee worked well.
Menlove told the BOS that redistricting is necessary in order to preserve the one person, one vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution, any jurisdiction that elects public officials from a defined area — such as county boards, commissions and community college districts — must adjust the shapes of those areas or districts after every federal census to re-equalize population.
According to state statute, ARS 11-212 — “The board of supervisors shall meet at the county seat on or before December 1 following the release of the United States decennial census data and divide the county into three or five supervisorial districts as provided in this article, which shall be numbered, respectively, districts one, two and three ... The board shall define the boundaries and limits of each district and make the division equal or with not more than 10% difference in population. The county may redistrict as often as deemed necessary between each United States decennial census.”
To begin the process, county supervisors consider, adopt and publish a list of “redistricting principles” as notice to the public and to any contracted consultants.
Some principles are required, including: district shapes must be compact and contiguous; must avoid dividing communities of interest; and must use visible geographic features, city or town boundaries.
Some principles are by choice, such as protecting incumbency by allowing map drawers to know the residential addresses of current board members.
Menlove offered the following as examples of guiding policies and principles:
• Representation: Electoral maps must follow the principle of “one person, one vote,” in which each district has a substantially similar number of people.
• Compactness: There should be a minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency, for example, a circle, square or a hexagon is the most compact district.
• Contiguity: All part of a district must be connected at some point with the rest of the district. Preservation of political subdivisions: City or town boundaries should be considered when drawing districts to avoid splitting communities.
• Preservation of communities of interest: Geographical areas, such as neighborhoods or unincorporated communities where the residents have common interest, should be considered when drawing districts and kept intact.
• Preservation of cores of prior districts: To preserve continuity of representation and to the extent possible, effort should be made to maintain the core of the districts as previously drawn.
• Avoid pairing incumbents: Electoral maps should strive to avoid creating districts that would create contests between incumbents.
• Favoring or disfavoring an incumbent, candidate, or party is prohibited. District lines should not intentionally or unduly favor a person or individual political group, such as using incumbent addresses, election results, party registration, or other socio-economic data as an input when redrawing districts.
• Competitiveness: The Arizona Constitution states “to the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.” This criterion typically seeks to avoid the creation of “safe” districts of a particular party.
The county must hold a series of public meetings to explain the process, principles, and resident online mapping tool. A second set of public meetings is required to display and seek comments on maps created by residents and staff.
Timeline for the process
• First quarter 2021: County supervisors consider, adopt and publish redistricting principles; determine whether redistricting will be managed in-house or by consultant and if by consultant, draft RFP, solicit bids, select and contract with consultant.
• April 2021 Census Bureau releases census data; data analysis can begin.
• Second quarter 2021: Hold first series of public meetings on mapping criteria; solicit public feedback; plans prepared by residents and staff are presented with summary of community input to county supervisors.
• Third quarter 2021: Hold second series of public meetings on alternative draft plans; final plan adopted by county supervisors on or before Dec. 1, 2021.