Politics

Is Arizona's Redistricting Process Excluding Latinos and Native Americans?

A rendering of the new grid map of Arizona's congressional districts.
A rendering of the new grid map of Arizona's congressional districts. Screenshot via the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
Since July, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission — a bipartisan five-member board appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders in the state legislature — has been conducting a statewide "listening tour" to gather public input on what Arizona's official political boundaries should look like moving forward. Meetings have been held in areas ranging from Lake Havasu City to Nogales as part of the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the maps of the state's congressional and state legislative districts.

The purpose of the meetings is for the commission to gather input from the public about how they think the maps should be drawn and what they like and dislike about the current districts. The commission and its staff then consider this feedback while crafting the new districts.

Some Democrats and advocacy groups, though, say the commission is failing to make the process accessible to certain communities. Not enough hearings have been hosted in predominantly Latino or Native American areas. And there's been insufficient bilingual public outreach to educate people about the importance of redistricting, which can dramatically impact political representation in a state.

"These hearings aren't being hosted in communities of color and the commission was not making an effort to reach us," said Victoria Grijalva Ochoa, program manager at One Arizona, a coalition of organizations that advocate for voting access in marginalized communities, among other issues. (She also previously worked on Senator Mark Kelly's 2020 campaign.) "It's very clear that they are making the process accessible for some folks and denying access for others."


Sandy Ochoa, the Tucson coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a Latino voter mobilization organization, told Phoenix New Times that the commission has "absolutely" failed to communicate with Latino communities about the redistricting process.

"The outreach was not done that should have been done," she said. "The messaging, the education — especially the education — was not done."

The commission is now beginning a new phase of hearings after releasing rough outlines of the new districts last week, and critics are concerned that the commission isn't changing its approach. Grijalva Ochoa pointed to the fact that there are two hearings located in Scottsdale and just one located in southeast Phoenix near Tempe.

"We’d love it if there were two Scottsdale locations and two in Maryvale," she said. "But when you only have two Scottsdale locations and none in Maryvale it’s hard to see what the intent is there when you’re trying to include communities of color."

"It seems like they are being very picky and choosy about what Latino communities they visit and what tribal communities they visit," Grijalva Ochoa added. "They’ve heard from us and they know this isn't enough, and they’ve still not done enough to improve it through the second round."

In an interview with Phoenix New Times conducted via Zoom, Erika Neuberg, the chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission, defended the commission's efforts to engage Latino and Native American communities.

"We have done our darnedest to spread ourselves as wide as possible across the state," she said. "The Latino community is 31 percent of our population. If we're not accessing them, they must be hiding somewhere because I think we've really done a decent job — not a perfect job — of trying to spread ourselves all over."

Neuberg cited meetings that occurred in Glendale, Yuma, Window Rock (which is the capital of the Navajo Nation), and Nogales as evidence of the commission's commitment to gathering feedback from a diverse range of Arizona residents. The commission also issues its news releases in both English and Spanish. As for the criticism of the two upcoming meetings slated to take place in Scottsdale, Neuberg said that no meetings had been held near Scottsdale previously.

"We’re redistricting for the whole state," she said. "It was appropriate to have a meeting that taps into that growth and population center."

Jaynie Parrish, a member of the Navajo Nation and the executive director of the Navajo County Democrats who has been working with other indigenous activists to try and get people to attend the meetings, said that several  "satellite" meetings that were slated to occur at various locations on tribal lands were canceled by the commission at the last minute "without notice."

 "It’s really disheartening to see the lack of transparency and communication about the process with the commission right now," she said. "Even though we have to believe that it is nonpartisan ... these impediments and the things we’ve seen do not provide a lot of confidence."

Michele Crank, a spokesperson for the Independent Redistricting Commission, blamed those late cancellations on the tribal nation's existing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.

"Every location, every venue that I would reach out to, again, there was that Covid restriction," she said. "Because we could not find a location, we ended up just having to cancel those locations."

Crank added that members of the commission asked the Intertribal Council of Arizona, which represents tribal leaders from across the state, to help them find venues in their communities and to do outreach about the hearing process.

Steve Gallardo, the sole Democratic member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, told Phoenix New Times that he sent a letter to the commission back in July offering to help them find locations to hold hearings in the west Valley. He says he didn't receive a response. In early August, Gallardo signed on to another letter that was 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," Gallardo said. "Where are you having the meetings at? That is huge. I think families like to go to familiar places that they feel comfortable in; the exact location is very important. If additional meetings are not added, you’ll have a large segment in our population in Maricopa County and across the state that will not have an opportunity to have their voices heard."

Neuberg said that she is meeting with Gallardo next week, though she didn't commit to adding new meetings in the areas outlined in the August letter.

"We understand that there are frustrations. There were a lot of efforts that were made that unfortunately didn’t pan out," she said. "We continue to solicit input from the public. We want suggestions for locations."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety