PT talks to Steve Lynn, chairman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, about the process, pitfalls and politics behind drawing legislative and congressional districts.
PT: How did Arizona's Prop. 106 come to pass? How did voters make that connection between their daily lives and redistricting?
Lynn: It was fairly interesting. It helped that Prop. 106 was authored by three notoriously nonpartisan groups of people. But what allowed it to pass was the adoption of the proposal by the Democratic Party as a supposed mechanism to elect more Democrats. Now, that didn't happen, and it wasn't because the commission was partisan Republican—it was split evenly with one independent. It happened because the law precluded spending a lot of energy trying to make districts more competitive.
We had to respect communities of interest. We had to respect the Voting Rights Act and comply with it, and we had to do a number of other things before we even approached competitiveness. Arizona law even says that competitive districts should be favored only where to do so creates no significant detriment to the other goals. So, you can't—for example—create a detriment to communities of interest just for the sake of competition. The law doesn't allow it.
PT: Was it difficult to reconcile the different objectives?
Lynn: It depends on your main objective. In Arizona, Prop. 106 provided six criteria. They are hierarchical, and the first criterion is compliance with the Constitution. If the goal is to create as much competition as possible, then my suggestion is to use as few additional criteria as possible. Often those criteria compete with one another.
PT: Is competition the most difficult to ensure?
Lynn: Communities of interest and compliance with the Voting Rights Act are the enemy of competitive districts. I don't mean that pejoratively in terms of the first two; I think they're noble goals. It's just that they counterbalance one another. So, the more competitive you wish to be, the less you'll be able to do the other two. You have to decide or you'll accomplish nothing.
PT: Is it a strength or a weakness that there is no specific "competitiveness" criterion in Prop. 77?
Lynn: Prop. 77 is intended to eliminate the bipartisan gerrymander that has gone on for a number of years in the California State Assembly. By putting it in the hands of retired judges, that quid pro quo between the two parties will no longer exist. That's fine. If that's what you want to accomplish, then I think Prop. 77 will do that. But if you want more competitive districts in the bargain, you may not be able to accomplish that because one, it's not a stated criterion, and two, if the judges—in their wisdom—decide that voters of similar interests should be kept together in districts, it will augur against being competitive anyway.
PT: How can you explain to the average voter how your commission draws up the lines and determines the Arizona district boundaries?
Lynn: We didn't necessarily attempt to engage the average voter in understanding how redistricting actually works. But we took great pains to engage them in expressing to us what their communities of interest were and who they saw themselves voting with. This informed us tremendously on creating districts in which we had to separate parts of the same city into two, three or even more districts. This input gave us a very informed methodology to divide cities along the lines of communities of interest.
PT: In your estimation, is there a benefit to having private citizens comprise the council instead of retired judges?
Lynn: Arizona is viewed as a kind of a model because it is perceived as being conspicuously up front about its bipartisan approach. The commission on appellate court appointments puts together a list of 25 citizens—10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five "other." The point is that the pool was not created by a political group, counter to the way the pool would potentially be created in California under Prop. 77.
In Arizona anyone could apply to be on the commission. The final applicant list included 318 people and 25 were selected. There was no prohibition or restraint on the part of the appointing authority to select someone from their own party. Theoretically, five independents or third-party candidates could have been appointed. It's not likely, but it was possible. The only thing that is guaranteed is that the chair of the commission will be neither a Republican nor a Democrat. In Arizona, you're not likely to have a deadlock, but a lot of pressure rests on the chairman of the council.
PT: As a citizen, have you seen any changes at the governmental level take hold since the new reapportionment process has been implemented?
Lynn: I don't think redistricting had any affect on the political balance of the state overall. But what it did do was change once-and-for-all the deal-making that might have gone on without anyone knowing about how districts were created. It brought total transparency to the process and a method that allowed every citizen to provide input at whatever level they wished. They could send us an e-mail and say, "I think I ought to be in this district," or "I think I should be with that representative," up to and including submitting an entire map of the state for us to consider. Now, we didn't adopt anybody else's maps, but the maps people sent us were informative.
PT: The electorate became actively engaged and interested in the process then?
Lynn: We had more than 15,000 people address the commission either in person or electronically.
PT: Outside of the conflicts between criteria, which of the six was the most difficult to establish when drawing the maps?
Lynn: Communities of interest. It just doesn't have a real definition. Rather than make any assumptions about what communities of interest look like, we engaged the public in a series of 15 meetings across the state to tell us what they thought their communities of interest were.
PT: Prop. 77 requires new legislative maps to be approved by the voters before they can come into effect. Is this a positive or negative attribute of the process?
Lynn: It's difficult because you're asking people to vote on something that very few of them understand and even fewer have expertise on. I suspect you could get it to pass, but with
any consolidated document—whether it's a redistricting map or a transportation project—people tend to look at what's in it for them—not what's in it for their neighbor. That's why it's sometimes better to do things through legislative channels instead of the initiative process.
PT: Proponents and opponents of Prop. 77 have been engaged in a real war of words recently. What kind of political wrangling was happening before the vote on Prop. 106?
Lynn: There was no organized opposition to Prop. 106. There were some grassroots things that were started by incumbent legislators, but they weren't in a position to organize an anti-106 campaign. Prop. 106 kind of slipped through under the radar with six or seven other ballot measures in 2000. It was voted in by a healthy margin; I think it was around 65%. And so, because the Democrats were supporting it and there was no organized opposition to it, people just said, "OK, we don't like the legislature doing this, so we'll give it to an independent commission."
PT: Mr. Lynn, thank you for your time.
Steve Lynn serves as chairman of the five-member Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, filling the single independent seat. He holds a bachelor's degree in government and a master's in communications, both from the University of Arizona.