The Arizona redistribution process excludes Latinos and Native Americans, critics say
Since July, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission – a bipartisan five-member body appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders in the state legislature – has been conducting a statewide “listening tour” to gather public opinion on how the official Arizona political borders are should look like in the future. As part of the decade-long process of redrawing the maps of the state’s congressional and legislative districts, meetings were held in areas from Lake Havasu City to Nogales.
The purpose of the meetings is for the commission to seek input from the public on how they think the maps should be made and what they like and dislike about the current counties. The commission and its staff then take this feedback into account when designing the new districts.
However, some Democrats and stakeholders say the Commission cannot expose the process to certain communities. Not enough hearings were held in predominantly Latin American or Indian areas. And there wasn’t enough bilingual public relations to educate people about the importance of redistribution, which can dramatically affect political representation in a state.
“These hearings are not taking place in communities of color and the commission has made no effort to reach us,” said Victoria Grijalva Ochoa, program manager at One Arizona, a coalition of organizations advocating electoral access in marginalized communities. (She also previously worked on Senator Mark Kelly’s 2020 campaign.) “It is very clear that they are making the process available to some people and denying others access.”
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Sandy Ochoa, the Tucson coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a Latino voter mobilization organization, told Phoenix New Times that the commission had “absolutely” failed to communicate with Latino communities about the redistribution process.
“The public relations work that should have been done was not done,” she said. “The messaging, the education – especially the education – was not done.”
The commission is now entering a new phase of hearings, having published rough outlines of the new districts last week, and critics are concerned that the commission is not changing its approach. Grijalva Ochoa pointed out that there are two hearings in Scottsdale and only one in southeast Phoenix near Tempe.
“We’d love if there were two locations in Scottsdale and two in Maryvale,” she said. “But when you only have two locations in Scottsdale and none in Maryvale, it’s hard to see what the intent is when trying to involve colored communities.”
“It seems that they are very picky and picky about which Latino communities they visit and which tribal communities they visit,” added Grijalva Ochoa. “They heard from us and they know this is not enough and they still haven’t done enough to improve it on round two.”
In an interview conducted by Phoenix New Times via Zoom, Erika Neuberg, Chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission, defended the Commission’s efforts to involve Latin American and indigenous communities.
“We did our best to spread ourselves as widely as possible across the state,” she said. “The Latino community makes up 31 percent of our population. If we don’t have access to them, they have to be hiding somewhere because I think we did a really good job – not a perfect job – trying to spread around everywhere. ”
Neuberg cited meetings in Glendale, Yuma, Window Rock (the capital of the Navajo Nation) and Nogales as evidence of the Commission’s commitment to gathering feedback from a wide variety of Arizona residents. The Commission also publishes its press releases in English and Spanish. Regarding the criticism of the two upcoming meetings due to take place in Scottsdale, Neuberg said no meetings had previously been held near Scottsdale.
“We’re giving a redistribution for the whole state,” she said. “It was appropriate to hold a meeting that opens up this growth and population center.”
Jaynie Parrish, a member of the Navajo Nation and the executive director of the Navajo County Democrats who worked with other indigenous activists to try to get people to attend the meetings, said several “satellite” meetings were taking place in different locations Locations on tribal land were canceled by the commission at the last minute “without notice”.
“It is really disheartening to see the lack of transparency and communication about the process with the Commission right now,” she said. “Even if we have to believe it’s impartial … those obstacles and the things we’ve seen don’t inspire much confidence.”
Michele Crank, a spokeswoman for the Independent Redistricting Commission, made these late cancellations attributed to the tribal nation’s existing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.
“Every place, every venue I would turn to had that Covid restriction again,” she said. “Since we couldn’t find a location, we simply had to cancel these locations in the end.”
Crank added that members of the commission had asked the Intertribal Council of Arizona, which represents tribal leaders from across the state, to help them find venues in their communities and help them out with the hearing process.
Steve Gallardo, the only Democratic member of Maricopa County’s board of directors, told the Phoenix New Times that he had sent a letter to the commission back in July to help them find places to hear in the West Valley. He says he didn’t get an answer. In early August, Gallardo signed another letter sent to the commission by the AZ Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting requesting that meetings be held in South Phoenix, Maryvale and Laveen.
“It’s about the location,” said Gallardo. “Where do you have the meetings? That’s huge. I think families like to go to familiar places where they are comfortable; the exact location is very important to our people in Maricopa County and across the state, who will have no opportunity to be heard. ”
Neuberg said she will meet with Gallardo next week, although she made no commitment to add new meetings in the areas described in the August letter.
“We understand that there is frustration. A lot of effort has been made that unfortunately didn’t work,” she said. “We continue to ask for input from the public. We want suggestions for locations.”