Redistricting is vital to a healthy democracy - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Redistricting is vital to a healthy democracy

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Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 3:30 am | Updated: 11:12 pm, Mon Feb 28, 2011.

Much like Tunisia and Egypt in the Middle East, and Madison, Wis. right here in good old US of A, a simmering pot of discontent has been near the boiling point in Arizona for some time.

Evidence abounds that there is a deep-seated frustration all around us.

From the need for immigration reform to frustration over SB 1070, tax rates to budget deficits, gun control to abortion, social safety nets to economic development, the range of issues runs the gamut. The vexation runs deep on both sides of the political spectrum.

The common denominator? Whether or not Arizona voters are actually being heard at the state capitol or in Washington, D.C.

Consider this: Roughly 1.4 million out of 3.1 million registered Arizona voters have no say in the outcome of a legislative race after the primary election. Yes, 46 percent of the electorate in our state is disenfranchised because of how the current district lines exist.

In contrast, Jonathan Cooper of thinkingarizona.com describes our most competitive legislative district in a recent article. Last fall, Legislative District 10 in north Phoenix was made up of 34.4 percent Republicans, 32.6 percent Democrats, and 31.8 percent Independent voters. One significant result of this competitive balance has been very close legislative races between Republican Doug Quelland and Democrat Jackie Thrasher. Matched up several times over the last decade, Quelland won twice and Thrasher once. But each time, the margin was razor thin.

LD10 has demonstrated that given the opportunity, Arizona voters CAN choose their own lawmakers and make that choice meaningful. How responsive to voters, all across the political spectrum, are candidates when they must convince more than just the farthest right or left voters?

As things stand now, in 24 out of Arizona's 30 districts, state legislature candidates simply do not have to pay attention to opposition party voters.

This week, Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission will be fully reconstituted for the task of redrawing legislative and Congressional districts for the state.

The Arizona Constitution requires the AIRC to balance six criteria. The districts must comply with the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act; must be of relatively the same number of voters; be geographically compact and contiguous; must respect communities of interest; and respect existing geographic boundaries. Further, to the extent possible without detriment to the other criteria, districts must be made competitive.

We believe that, without compromising the other constitutionally required criteria, the AIRC can - more easily than not - make at least 10 of the 30 legislative districts and at least four of the nine new Congressional districts competitive. With some districts safe for minority candidates (usually Democrats), and some safe districts for Republicans, this number of competitive districts has the potential to dramatically change things at the state capitol.

Now, what can we (you) do?

Soon, the AIRC will begin holding public hearings so that any interested Arizona citizen may tell the commissioners what they should hold in the highest priority as they decide how to draw those districts.

Next month, the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition will introduce Redistrict America, a free online mapping tool to empower individuals and groups to propose their own versions of the new district maps. View a sneak peak of this tool at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUpBUhHOwi0.

We will also sponsor a contest to see who can do the best job of incorporating all six criteria. Hundreds or perhaps even thousands of Arizonans will demonstrate that it can be done.

Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green, Progressive or Tea Party, we hope you will join us in this effort.

Follow us at www.azredistricting.com, and www.facebook.com/AZCDC.

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Former state Reps. Ken Clark and Roberta Voss co-chair the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition. Clark served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2003-2005; Voss served from 1997-2003.

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