Arizona Redistricting Predictions: Rural Areas Might Lose Seats

By Jeremy Duda, Arizona Capitol Times

Other districts across the state were largely stagnant, adding just a few thousand names or fewer since 2004. District 14 in central Phoenix added just 40 new names to its voter rolls during that period.

Based on those trends, many areas of the state – essentially anything outside Maricopa, Pinal and possibly Pima counties – could see less representation at the Capitol when the new districts go into effect in 2012.

Tony Sissons, who runs the consulting firm Research Advisory Services and participated in the 1990 redistricting process, said voter registration data is an imperfect indicator of population growth.

Additionally, there are other factors in play when the Independent Redistricting Commission redraws the lines, making any strong predictions a “fool’s game,” Sissons said. There are five other criteria to consider, plus the priorities and goals of the commissioners themselves, who won’t be selected until 2011, meaning the possibilities are endless, he said.

“There are trillions of possible maps that can be drawn,” Sissons said. “There are so many factors to keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to draw a meaningful map before you have all the data and the process starts for real.”

Yet it can be helpful in some ways, he said.

“It wouldn’t be completely foolhardy to … kind of see what happens when you adjust the existing districts to accommodate those high- growth and low-growth registrations,” he said. “But then the difficult part is that, county to county, there’s a wide variance in the relationship between total registered voters and total population.”

The speculation, though, already has begun. Some legislative incumbents could take an electoral hit if the new lines put them in the same district as another incumbent, while others could get drawn out of friendly districts that have favorable voter-registration trends.

Sissons said he gets Google alerts on all redistricting-related articles, and the number of those articles popping up on the Web is on the rise. “You can really tell that redistricting is now on people’s minds and that they’re anxious to be looking at what’s going to happen,” he said.

Consultant Chad Willems, of the Summit Group, said redistricting makes it difficult for some prospective candidates to plan ahead at this point in the cycle, with the next

Independent Redistricting Commission scheduled to begin work in 2011. Although cautious types may be waiting for an ideal situation to open up, others are looking to take the initiative.

“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind politically, but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of people … doing it this time,” Willems said.

For example, the 1st and 5th Congressional districts already have at least three candidates apiece eying the seat, Willems said. With the knowledge that their legislative or congressional district boundaries could be redrawn to put them in the same district as another incumbent of the same party – constitutionally, the commission is prohibited from considering the residences of incumbents when it draws new lines – some may want to run while they still have an ideal district to run in. Technically, candidates for congress don’t have to live in the district in which they are running, but it’s politically damaging if they don’t.

Many Republicans especially are hoping to take advantage of what is expected to be a strong anti-Democratic climate in the 2010 congressional races, Willems said, when Democrats are widely expected to lose congressional seats.

“The attitude seems to be … 2010 will be a good year for Republicans,” Willems said, “and they’ll go out and seize that opportunity and try to pick up some of these seats, and deal with the redistricting.”

Still, some political careers may be hinging on whether candidates will have a new, friendly and open district to run in. Willems pointed to the 3rd Congressional District, where a handful of Republican hopefuls are eying U.S. Rep. John Shadegg’s seat, but won’t run as long as he is in office. Shadegg announced his impending retirement in 2008, but quickly retracted the statement, forcing several potential candidates to reconsider.

Conventional wisdom has been that Arizona will gain at least one new congressional district, with a second district a strong possibility.

But Sissons said the recession, which pulled the rug out from under Arizona’s massive housing boom, may have cost the state the new residents it needs to get a 10th congressional district.

“I’m less confident that we will get that 10th seat. What the economic crisis has done has made households much less likely to move – it’s basically an economic hunkering down effect that’s sort of caused households and businesses to not make any dramatic moves right now. Interstate migration has really plummeted,” he said.

The Independent Redistricting Commission starts with a blank slate, meaning existing boundaries can’t simply be adjusted. And while some features are likely to remain the same – Sissons doubts the commission will split the Navajo Nation into multiple districts, and the Hopi Tribe likely will insist once again on being in a separate district from the Navajo, with whom they have longstanding land disputes – where the final lines are drawn is anyone’s guess. In the end, it will be determined by census data that hasn’t yet been compiled and five redistricting commissioners who have not yet been nominated.

“All I can really say is if you’re a current elected official wishing to run in the district that is created around you in the future, just keep your eye on like a 10-mile radius around you. I couldn’t offer anything more concrete or definitive than that,” Sissons said.

(Originally published in the Arizona Capitol Times, October 19, 2009)

Specializing in the analysis of data about geographic areas – Census blocks and tracts, Zip Codes®, voting precincts, land parcels, and traffic analysis zones