Small changes to AZ redistricting map would mean a big win for democracy

by Leah Sakala, October 25, 2011  

The Prison Policy Initiative today submitted testimony to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, suggesting that the Commission make some simple fixes to their redistricting map proposal that would minimize the distortion caused by prison-based gerrymandering.

The issue of prison-based gerrymandering has been on the Commission’s radar throughout the redistricting process, thanks to the efforts of local advocates and political bloggers. The Commission discussed the issue in depth during the public hearing process, concluding that prison-based gerrymandering has the potential to seriously undermine Arizona’s democracy. As Commissioner Richard Stertz explained at the September 8th hearing, the Commission,

“… [doesn’t] want to give any indication of creating a non-voting population in a particular legislative district that would lead those that can vote into a hyper-majority by virtue of having so many prisoners in a particular legislative district.”

The Commission has also raised the issue of how prison populations can confound analyses of minority voting power, and members promised to exclude incarcerated populations from their analyses of majority minority districts.

With all the progress that the Redistricting Commission has made to address the issue of prison-based gerrymandering, it should be easy for the Commission to make a few small changes that would make a big difference in minimizing the distortion caused by prison-based gerrymandering:

First, all of the Florence prisons in Pinal County have been lumped together into Legislative District 8, but some of these prisons could easily be transferred to neighboring District 11. District 8 appears to be drawn 1.53% heavy, but without the prison populations the district is 6.9% too light, diluting the votes of all residents in all other districts. We recommend:

  • Shifting ASPC- Eyman (Tract 000803, Block 1059) to District 8. Extending District 11 north 1.5 miles to pick up ASPC- Eyman has no impact on the voting population of the districts because the census blocks in between have no population, and
  • Increasing the voting population of District 8 by adding the remainder of a split precinct — VTD 0402171 — (currently shared with District 16) back into District 8.

Second, a similar strategy — adding more population to a district with a large prison — should be employed in Proposed District 1 in Pima, Cochise and Graham Counties. Proposed District 1 would be the 2nd smallest district in the state with the 5th largest correctional population. This district is underpopulated even when using the prisons as padding, and without the prisons this district is 5.3% smaller than the ideal district. An additional precinct should be added to this district.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has nothing to lose and a lot to gain for Arizona’s democracy by making these small and easy changes that will more closely align Arizona redistricting with the federal requirement of “one person, one vote.”

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