Project launched to get more citizen involvement in redistricting
Oct. 15, 2010
By Jennifer A. Steen
Morrison Institute for Public Policy
According to a popular adage, he who makes the rules wins the game. The rules of electoral politics include the set of lines that define legislative districts, and those who draw political maps after each decennial census enjoy tremendous influence over election outcomes. Traditionally, line-drawing duties and their attendant perks have been reserved for state legislators, and as a consequence district maps tend to serve politicians’ interests more than those of their constituents. Lines drawn by legislators often reinforce the majority party’s advantages or simply protect incumbents from both parties, at the expense of promoting more benign goals such as partisan competition or representation for so-called “communities of interest” defined by shared culture, history, geography or economics.
Dec. 6-8, 2010
Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix Campus
The Mercado, Room B200
502 E. Monroe Street
Fee: $900 for three-day session
Information: Click here
Registration: Click here
Arizona employs an unusual redistricting mechanism that shakes up the traditional division of political labor. Proposition 106, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in the 2000 general election, established the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to create districts for the Arizona Legislature and Congress. In Arizona, district lines are officially drawn by regular citizens and not by legislative committees as done in most states. Indeed, anyone – except politicians – can apply for a seat on the IRC.
Oct. 15 marks the deadline for Arizona residents to submit applications for the IRC, but this is by no means the last call for public involvement in redistricting. In the coming months, citizens will enjoy many significant opportunities to contribute to our state’s new political maps. If the previous round of line drawing is indicative, the IRC will hold dozens of public hearings and open meetings as draft district maps are developed. Once the commission presents draft maps, a public comment period is legally required.
Arizonans can and should make the most of these opportunities, and to this end a little education can go a long way. Citizens' contributions will be more likely to have impact (and more helpful to commissioners) if they combine meaningful expressions of political preferences with pragmatic recognition of the constraints imposed by federal and state law. For instance, it would be unproductive to propose districts that ignore the constitutional mandate of equal population, the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act with respect to certain minority groups, or the criteria enumerated in Proposition 106 regarding compactness, contiguity, communities of interest, existing political boundaries and competitiveness.
Citizens do not need to master the complex, often technical material that comprises the field of redistricting policy, but those who develop a basic understanding of key parameters will be able to show and tell the IRC how to grant their districting wishes without running afoul of constitutional and statutory requirements. To facilitate informed public participation, Morrison Institute for Public Policy is organizing a series of programs related to the 2011 redistricting. No matter what one's particular political goals are, these events and materials will help Arizonans make their voices heard as electoral lines are drawn for the next decade.
Arizona citizens are uniquely empowered by our state's open redistricting process. By seizing our opportunities to help shape the political map that will define elections for the next decade, we can demonstrate to the rest of the country that there is an alternative to the cynical, self-serving redistricting process that is regrettably normal.
Jennifer A. Steen, an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University, is a research fellow at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.