Coalition watches redistricting - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Coalition watches redistricting

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Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 6:45 pm | Updated: 8:16 am, Wed Nov 28, 2012.

A leader of a nonprofit group brought his message of creating competitive legislative districts in Arizona to Sun City on Tuesday.

The Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition, which includes Republican and Democratic co-chairmen, advocates more citizen involvement as the state redraws political boundaries throughout Arizona.

At the Fairway Recreation Center Tuesday, coalition co-chair Ken Clark, a Democrat and former House member from Phoenix, said: “I don’t care about the lines; I care about the principle of it.”

Once every 10 years, after the census, states have the opportunity to redraw legislative and congressional district borders.

While many states delegate this process to the Legislature, Arizona voters approved the establishment of the Independent Redistricting Commission to carry out the task. The members of this five-member panel were selected in February, with two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent to serve as chair.

The commission will attempt to draw the district borders fairly, with districts that will be of equal population, comply with the Voting Rights Act, reflect communities of interest, be compact and contiguous and be competitive.

The process of redrawing these lines is often subject to gerrymandering based on party, race, incumbency and more, Clark said.

“If you know it’s safe, then as a politician, you’re not going to be as responsive,” he said, explaining many politicians are happy to see the lines drawn in a way that will keep them in office.

“There are some districts that may be predominantly one party or the other,” said coalition member and Sun Citian Shirley McAllister, but the group hopes to increase the number of districts where anyone could win.

Good government happens when you have more debate, said Clark, who co-chairs the coalition with Roberta Voss, a Republican and former member of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Clark said after the last census and the redistricting that followed, the state had only three competitive districts, and while that number has grown to six with population changes, the coalition hopes this year’s process will create at least 10 competitive districts.

The coalition defines competitive districts as when candidates are within 7 percentage points of each other during a race.

“It would be nice if we had districts that are relatively equal,” McAllister said. “Our hope is that we will have a lot of input from citizens.”

Clark said the coalition hopes to get people involved with the use of new software that would allow anyone to try their hand at redrawing the lines.

Citizens can team up and share their maps with neighbors and friends to get more input, and the coalition will conduct a contest, with the winning maps submitted to the redistricting commission for consideration.

This kind of public involvement has never been done before, he said.

“Yes, good news is going to come out of Arizona,” Clark said.

There are other ways to get involved, too.

“We need watchdogs,” he said, explaining the coalition is looking for people to sign up to attend the commission meetings and watch for signs of gerrymandering.

Other people who are interested can also sign up to speak to other groups about the coalition and get more people involved.

To sustain the expensive software programs and to continue educating the public about the redistricting process, the coalition is also asking for donations.

For information, visit the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition website at azredistricting.com.

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