Redistricting panel’s software frustrates public

Redistricting panel’s software frustrates public

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission made its first revisions to preliminary legislative and congressional maps earlier this week, but some members of the public continue to struggle to provide input because they can’t figure out the commission’s mapping software. 

Yuma resident William Bowlus-Root, a retired software engineer, is one of them. 

“I’m an experienced software developer, and I’ve tinkered with it for hours without finishing a single map,” he told the commission during one of its recent public hearings. “If I can’t deal with it and if I struggle with it, how can you expect the public at large to use it?”  

The Esri mapping software is the same the commission is using, chairwoman Erika Neuberg has noted in response to these concerns, which were common during the IRC’s most recent round of public meetings.  

Access to that level of data and information puts Arizona on the cutting edge of technology, Neuberg said, and that’s a valuable “silver lining” to the frustrations. 

“We don’t want to deny those who are actually skilled and capable of doing that to participate,” she said during the September 28 regular meeting. 

The IRC and its mapping consultants have posted training sessions and short videos on the IRC’s YouTube page to walk people through each step of creating a map online. Neuberg also told attendees they can submit hard-copy maps and said that those maps will receive the same level of consideration as digital ones. 

Erika Neuberg

“We can read hard-copy maps,” she said. “That way, you can literally just draw a circle, write boundaries, mail it to our address and we will collect all of that data.” 

The mapping team is also working on a simpler digital tool, she added. 

Sedona City Council member Holli Ploog told the commission about plans to submit a petition with more than 500 signatures asking for the software to be simplified for the average user.  

“The public cannot give input on the maps with this unusable tool the IRC has provided,” she read from the petition at the September 25 hearing. “Without public input, which is required by law, this is not a fair and transparent process.” 

Kendra Alvarez, All On The Line Arizona state director, said that when it comes to adequately soliciting public input, how the commission schedules its third round of hearings will be key. The commission hopes to approve draft maps by October 27 before another 30-day review period. 

“There are still communities that are calling for hearings in Maryvale and south Phoenix and for more engagement with tribal communities,” she said. “Those are hearings where the draft maps are going to be viewed, and so really all communities need to have good access.” 

As that deadline and the additional hearings draw near, more people are paying attention to the process, Alvarez said. All On The Line is also offering trainings on how to use the mapping tools, submit public comments and engage at different parts of the process. 

Alvarez said while the commission has made some changes that make the mapping software easier to use, the trainings are only in English and the tools are primarily online. While there is an option to print a map to submit as a hardcopy, the IRC has been slow to post those submissions. 

“There are some ways that they have made steps towards the request that communities have made,” Alvarez said. “There’s just additional room to improve as they get closer to draft maps, and as they start on the third round of hearings.” 

The IRC finished its second round of hearings on October 8. The commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. on October 12 for their regular weekly meeting, and then again on October 15 to continue revising the preliminary maps. 

Commissioners hope to approve final maps by December 22, though the process could stretch into January.