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Redistricting commission down to business… finally

For those concerned with how the state’s political districts will actually be redrawn, everything up until last week has been only preamble.

That’s when the five-person panel, which is charged with the once-per-decade task of recasting the state’s political boundaries, actually began voting on tentative congressional district lines. The Independent Redistricting Commission is expected to approve a draft map as soon as today, and then begin fine-tuning new legislative district lines.

With some good fortune, by the end of this week the commission could pass one of their timeline milestones by adopting draft maps. Voters will then have 30 days to weigh in on the new political boundaries. After the public comment period is over, the commission will make final adjustments to both sets of maps and submit them to the U.S. Justice Department for approval.

That said, it’s not an understatement to say that this will be the most important week for the commission since the group was assembled this spring.

The commissioners’ interactions reflect the the weight of the actual mapping work, too, shifting from polite, reserved and guarded to civil but demanding and accusatory. While the differing goals of the partisan commissioners – the IRC includes two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent – have always existed, those differences are now the focal point, as the maps take a step closer to completion.

Democrats cried foul last week when the commission decided on the configuration of the rural congressional districts, saying the districts weren’t competitive enough. Republicans followed suit when the Phoenix-area districts were filled in with lines that began with a district especially designed by one of the Democratic commissioners.

Both partisan fits came with colorful exchanges, mostly centered on how one side saw the others’ actions as attempting to undermine the core tenets of democracy.

And since the public is invited to offer their input, the commission continues to receive everything from praise to condemnation.

As the commissioners move on to the legislative district lines, observers can expect to see more pointed public comment, probably even from some of those politicians whose territories are being shifted under their own feet.

So, for those concerned with how the state’s political districts will actually be redrawn, or those just looking for great political theatre, this is the time to watch the state’s redistricting commission.

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