NASHVILLE, TN – Arizona’s first round of public hearings ended August 9. A second Listening Tour of proposed election grid maps was scheduled at 15 sites on five dates between September 21 and October 7.

Arizona is one of six states that have an independent redistricting commission (IRC). The other five are: California, Hawaii, Washington, Idaho, and New Jersey. Arizona is also one of 23 “trifecta” states, like Tennessee, where one party has control over both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office.

A big political difference between Arizona and Tennessee is the narrowness of the GOP’s electoral advantage. In the Arizona state Senate, for example, the Republican Party majority is 16-14; in the House, it’s 31-29. In Tennessee, the Republicans hold a 73-26 majority in the House and a 27-6 majority in the Senate. 

Fairly drawn election districts are crucial for Arizonans to elect representatives that look like them and share their values. Voting rights activists say the Listening Tour organizers did not communicate with community partners about the meetings so they could inform their constituents to participate.

“There was a lack of communication and little notice so dedicated volunteers had to step up to fill in the gaps,” said Jaynie Parrish, Navajo County Democrats.

Census 2020 figures show Arizona’s population increased by 759,485 people since 2010, up by 11%. Tennessee’s population increased by 541,466 persons or 8.5%. Neither state will lose or gain a Congressional district.

Jaynie Parrish is Executive Director of Navajo County Democrats. She is originally from Window Rock, Arizona. 

The Listening Tour was organized by the IRC to get public comments to help draw new election district boundaries. In a press release, Commission Chair Erika Neuberg urged all Arizonans “to attend one of these important hearings to ensure their voices will be heard”.  On paper the meeting schedule looked good but the IRC arranged virtual meetings that were later cancelled.

For example, the virtual public hearing at Window Rock in Navajo country was cancelled at the last minute. So attending the in-person meeting was the only alternative. 

Parrish said the virtual hearing for Navajo County was about 3½ hours away from Show Low where the in person meeting was held. 

“That’s a predominantly white area,” she said.  

“The security was intimidating. Talk about voter suppression. We have video and footage or out elders being wanded and patted down by young white kids who said they were hired by the IRC and this is right in the middle of the Navajo Nation,” Parrish said.

With that kind of welcome, some of the Native Americans who had made the drive to attend the meeting didn’t want to go in. Parrish said some people were turned away and for those who got in, there was no translation provided for the Navajos. 

“It really just comes down to attending a hearing that you didn’t hear about that is not scheduled in your community and that is not scheduled at a time that works for you,” said Victoria Grijalva Ochoa, Redistricting Program Manager, One Arizona. 

For someone to propose a citizen-drawn district map, you had to use the IRC’s online mapping too

Victoria Grijalva Ochoa is Redistricting Program Manager, One Arizona. She grew up in the border town of Douglas, Arizona and was the political manager for Mark Kelly’s successful bid last year in the special election for U.S. Senate.

“That tool is only available in English. There have not been any training materials offered in additional languages and even that tool is really difficult to access.

We heard during that first round that people were having difficulty sending in a drawing of their own community of interest based on the original tool the commission provided and now they’ve provided an even more difficult tool for folks to learn and submit their own maps,” Ochoa said. 

Ochoa said people could not submit a proposed map for just their election district. They had to submit a statewide map so people who were unfamiliar with other parts of the state had difficulty. 

She said the IRC did not reach out to her group and didn’t ask other community groups how they could work together. The public comment period was short and grassroots organizers not only have the trust of their communities but also know how to reach them whereas the IRC doesn’t.

African Americans make up 4.4 % of Arizona’s population (297,107 persons) and they are scattered throughout the state. 

According to Reginald Bowling, who is the Minority Leader in the Arizona House of Representatives, the IRC should have provided more opportunities to get input from minority voices.

“We are not allowing virtual options for communities of color to have their voices heard on a redistricting process that will have decade-long implication,” Bowling said. 

Since the 2010 Census, Arizona’s Hispanic population grew by almost 300,000, or 15.68%. Arizona is now 30.66% Hispanic, up from 29.65% in 2010.

“They didn’t go where they needed to have the meetings held,” said Sandy Ochoa of Mi Familia Vota. Ochoa said the IRC picked districts for the first round that weren’t where many people of color live. “We felt that it was a huge disadvantage to minorities,” she said. 

Sandy Ochoa is the Tucson Coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement organization that promotes social and economic justice through citizenship workshops, voter registration, and voter participation campaigns.

Once district maps are drawn, local governments manage county and local elections in Arizona. Prisoners are deemed residents of where they are incarcerated.

Election districts are not subject to review by the secretary of state, legislature, or the governor. Arizona’s nine seats in the House of Representatives, along with the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mark Kelly, are all up for grabs in the 2022 election. 

Arizona’s other Democratic Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia are opposed to President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change package. Both have said they will not vote to end the Senate filibuster rule. 

Arizona Democrats are threatening to hold a “no confidence” vote against Sinema over her steadfast support for the filibuster rule in the United States Senate. A Data for Progress poll conducted earlier this year, found 61% of Arizona voters, including a plurality of Republicans, said they were in favor of ending the filibuster if it meant major legislation could be passed.