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Redistricting commission picks initial ‘grid’ maps

Arizona’s redistricting commission on Thursday picked starting points for drawing new congressional and legislative district maps, with a dissenting member expressing concern about representation of areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The commission, during a meeting in Casa Grande, reviewed two sets of so-called grid maps based on only two of the constitutionally required criteria — equal population and compactness of the districts.

One set was based on a starting point in the Phoenix area and the other by working from the southeastern corner of the state.

The commission voted 4-1 to use the southeastern Arizona option, which the commission’s mapping consultants said generally produced districts more compact than the alternatives.

Commissioner Jose Herrera, a Democrat, voted no. He said he was concerned that both options had three congressional districts including regions along the border.

The congressional map used in the past five general elections had two districts along the border, with both seats held by Democrats.

Herrera didn’t explain his concern, but the counties along the border include strong Democratic-leaning areas. Splitting those areas among three districts could make the resulting districts harder for Democrats to win.

With approval of the so-called “grid” maps as starting points for drawing new districts, the commission now must direct the consultants to make changes to satisfy other required redistricting criteria.

Those include respecting as-yet-undefined communities of interest, protecting minority voting rights and creating of districts winnable by either major party.

The commission includes two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. It was created under a ballot measure approved by voters in 2000 to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature.

Mapping consultant Ken Strasma said the grid maps were intended to provide the commission with a “clean-slate start” from current districts and to ensure that incumbents’ residences are not considered.

Under questioning by Herrera, Strasma said the number of border districts may have been discussed in discussions he had with other individual commissioners, whom he did not identify.

However, Strasma said the consultants made “no conscious attempt” to have three border districts in the grid maps. “We followed the procedure that was outlined at the last meeting and did not do anything to have either two or three border districts.”

Commission Chair Colleen Mathis, the independent, said the grid maps will be substantially revised as the commission considers the other required criteria.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we will have three border districts. We could have four or two or we could have one,” she said.

Even before starting actual map work that is bound to stir heated debate among politicians and various advocates, the commission has been embroiled in controversy.

Much of that has centered on the selection of Strasma’s firm, Strategic Telemetry, a Washington-based firm with Democratic ties, as its mapping consultants.

Mathis sided with the two Democrats in picking Strategic Telemetry over a California-based firm favored by the two Republicans.

Adopted congressional “grid” map

Adopted legislative “grid” map

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