New AZ redistricting maps may not be much better than the last

| December 21 2011
Christopher Cook

Here’s the Arizona Republic from late last evening:

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Tuesday approved a congressional map for 2012 that puts Republican Reps. Ben Quayle and Paul Gosar in competitive districts, positioning them for possible tough fights next year.

It also moves Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., into a district that reflects his traditional political base and eliminates a much-mocked boundary line that pulled northeastern Arizona into the same district as western Arizona.

After months of heated public debate and intense legal wrangling, the commission voted 3-2 to make several tweaks to a draft map that had left Republicans feeling shortchanged.

The map’s supporters claim it is fair:

But Commissioner Linda McNulty, a Tucson Democrat, said the map creates four GOP-leaning districts, two that favor Democrats and three competitive districts. [ . . . ]

She noted the alignment roughly reflects the state’s voter registration.

That statement makes it sound as though that is how redistricting is supposed to be done—based on how many Ds, Rs, and Is there are in the populace. But in most states, it is done by a larger number of elected representatives rather than a smaller number of selected board members. The elected representatives are accountable to the people, and it’s much harder for a large number of them to get squeezed into a smoky back room somewhere . . . whereas, a supposedly “independent” process is filled with all sorts of opportunities to game the system. Yes, the representatives will usually come up with something that gives the majority the greatest partisan advantage, but even that reflects, in a way, the will of the electorate, since it was the electorate that put the majority into the majority in the first place.

Democrats continued to defends the new maps:

José Herrera, a Democratic commissioner from Phoenix, said the three competitive districts could just as easily go for Republicans, which, when paired with the four GOP districts, could create an Arizona congressional delegation that is 7-2 in favor of Republicans.

Maybe yes, maybe no. But none of that changes the realities above. Prop 106 set up a system that could be much more easily manipulated in ways inconsistent with the actual electoral makeup of the state (as opposed to the state’s voter registration).

Politico is calling the new map “Mathis’s revenge”:

On Tuesday evening, after the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated Mathis to the commission, the independent panel turned around and approved a similar map that puts Republicans in a bind.

As in the first map, the approved plan positions Democrats to compete for a majority of the state’s nine congressional seats, establishing two safe Democratic seats and three competitively-drawn seats. Democrats currently hold three of the state’s seats.

No system is perfect. When redistricting is controlled by elected representatives, you do get some major swings. Some redistricting years, the Democrats totally roll the Republicans, and some years, it’s the reverse. But at least it’s being done by a larger number of elected officials rather than by a small panel more subject to machinations.