June 4, 2004
The Independent Redistricting Commission voted Thursday to withdraw its request for federal approval of new legislative districts, ending any chance the revised lines will be used this election.
The 3-2 vote came over the objection of the two Democrats on the commission.
Andi Minkoff said she was not interested in causing chaos by having a potential new plan before the U.S. Department of Justice even after the Arizona Court of Appeals ordered the continued use of the old plan for at least this year.
But Minkoff said she feared that the action will force the federal agency to start all over again.
And that, she said, could result in a repeat in 2006 of this year’s problems where the required approval could not be gained in time to hold the election.
Arizona is required to get Department of Justice preclearance of any changes in state election law — including new districts — because of its prior history of undermining the voting rights of minorities.
The federal agency had given its approval for the districts crafted for the 2002 election. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields subsequently voided those maps, saying the commission did not comply with a constitutional requirement to create as many politically competitive districts as possible.
Commissioners came up with a new map and submitted it to the Department of Justice in April. That agency, however, has 60 days to act and, as of Thursday, had neither approved nor rejected the lines.
Last Friday the Court of Appeals said time had run out for getting that approval. The three-judge panel said that left the 2002 lines as the only ones with the requisite federal preclearance, despite the fact that Fields found them unconstitutional.
Commission attorney Lisa Hauser said Thursday’s action was necessary to prevent the possibility that the Department of Justice could grant approval within the next few weeks. That could throw the election into chaos, especially since candidates must file their nominating papers by Wednesday.