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GOP lawmakers raise voting rights concerns with DOJ

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, two Republican lawmakers said the congressional and legislative maps approved by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission fall short in protecting minority voting strength.

Senate President Steve Pierce and Rep. Jim Weiers told DOJ in a letter today that that the maps may not comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the two lawmakers, who co-chaired the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting last fall, did not expressly ask the feds to reject the maps.

The deadline for DOJ to either approve the maps or request more information from the IRC is April 10.

Pierce and Weiers wrote that the IRC refused to turn over detailed analyses of polarized racial block voting in October, when the committee was active. After the IRC released the data in February, a consultant hired by the Legislature determined that the IRC’s analysis of minority voting strength was incomplete.

A report by Lisa Handley, the Legislature’s consultant, “raises serious questions about the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice,” the letter reads.

The letter also said the IRC was not transparent enough, citing the commission’s refusal to turn over minority voting data to the joint committee. The lack of information denied the Legislature, minority groups and the public the opportunity to make meaningful assessments of the maps, Pierce and Weiers wrote.

“A more transparent process would have permitted this information to be part of the public discussion at the time the maps were being drafted. The department should consider the points made in Dr. Handley’s memorandum. It is the type of significant discussion that the public was denied,” Pierce and Weiers wrote.

Weiers, R-Phoenix, said the purpose of the letter was to not to urge DOJ to reject the maps. But he said he believes that’s a possibility.

“We’re simply supplying them with information to make a more informed decision, information they didn’t have at the time we were holding the hearings,” Weiers said. “If the Department of Justice looks at this … perhaps there will be a rejection.”

Arizona is one of a handful of states required by the Voting Rights Act to get approval, known as preclearance, for all changes to election and voting laws, including redistricting plans.

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