Whose redistricting plan is this?

On Friday, in response to the BOS approval of their plan, I contrasted Mohave County Redistricting with other rural counties - Yavapai, Gila and Navajo. We established that even though the manpower and resources were the same, the process and results were far different than here in Mohave County.

The question before us now is: Is this plan the result of the consultants' work, or was it dictated to them by our supervisors?

First, I have a couple observations from the BOS meeting. I found it humorous that the county's democrat activists, the democrat consultants (if they are responsible for this plan), and the republican supervisors were in were in complete agreement! These democrats absolutely loved and supported the plan submitted by Allen Tempert. What bothered me was Allen contradicted his previous statements when he admitted that both mine and Don Van Brunt's plan could pass the DOJ requirements found in the Voting Rights Act.

Now let's look at the plan that the consultants drew for Mohave County, and the principles they were to follow. The guidelines are the key, and since I'm certainly not an expert, I want to see what they have to say and how the principles apply in redistricting. I confess that I haven't asked Anthony Sissons of Research Advisory Services, Inc., or Bruce Adelson of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC, directly. However, I found articles written on these issues before redistricting ever began. So we can see their words on the subject.

Mr. Sissons advertises his expertise on redistricting as a demographer since 1987. He has written several articles leading up to this redistricting cycle for the Arizona Guardian. On Nov. 12, 2009, he wrote "Communities of Interest - how they are defined, used and sometimes misused in drawing districts."

Communities of Interest (COI) is the first guideline listed in the presentation on redistricting. Tony describes this principle including the Arizona Constitution's words: "District boundaries shall respect communities of interest to the extent practicable". That's well and good, and there's certain latitude that allow those responsible for drawing lines. So does this plan proposed by the supervisors violate the principles regarding COI, that is: Does the plan 'disrespect' any COI? Well, in that same article Sissons describes three ways to "disrespect" a COI and he states: "The first 'disrespect' occurs when a COI is divided by a proposed election district boundary. Whatever voting strength or influence COI residents had in their current district will be diminished if parts of the COI end up in two of more new districts. Each part will have a smaller proportion, thus less influence, in each of the new districts."

So, if I understand Mr. Sissons' words, dividing up the rural areas in half, as well as Kingman, and putting parts of each into two separate districts, is a "DISRESPECT" of the COI! Well, it sounds like Mr. Sissons opposes such a "disrespect' of this guideline. So why does the BOS plan to do exactly that? Did Tony Sissons throw his book out the window?

The next guideline is Compactness. Again Mr. Sissons, writing in the Arizona Guardian, discusses this guideline in a Jan. 21, 2010, article titled "Compactness and Contiguity - the antidotes to gerrymandering." Now lets admit the obvious. When you have the fifth-largest county in the nation geographically, 'compactness' is elusive. We have more land than Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura Counties combined, but just over 1 percent of their population. Further, when you have the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River cutting through the northern part of the county, it's nearly impossible to have "compactness" in the rural section of our county in the traditional sense of the word.

But there are clear principles that overcome these concerns. Since all the districts are contiguous, this is not an issue. But Mr. Sissons gave us a description on "compactness" that he used in the previous round of redistricting, but is missing in his presentation to Mohave County. Here is how he describes Compactness: "Similar dimensions on each axis. The most compact shape is a circle. Not spread out. Not meandering. Compactness reinforces the ability of residents to relate to each other and to their representatives, and for their representatives to relate effectively to them. It also represents the feeling of belonging to a shared place.

"Compactness is a guard against gerrymandering; it also facilitates political organization, campaigning, and representation. District boundaries should be easily identifiable and understandable to voters."

Now this is surprising! Even in Mohave County, a circle is a circle regardless of its size. Instead, the County's District 1 that extends from Wikieup north to Littlefield is a very elongated, relatively narrow district. As Mr. Sissons aptly states, "Compactness is a guard against gerrymandering." So, does Mr. Sissons violate his own guidelines when drawing this district line, or was "gerrymandering" at work? Either he violated his own principles, or someone else drew the lines. There are no other options if we believe Mr. Sissons' own words.

Lastly, Allen Tempert has already admitted that there are other ways to re-draw the districts that will not violate the DOJ mandates in the Voting Rights Act. I pointed out they adopted my district lines for the critical River Districts and they don't violate the rule against "retrogression." Now the reduction of 75 Hispanics out of 40,000 population in District 1 most certainly will not violate the Voting Rights Act! Even Bruce Adelson has acknowledged this is not significant.

There were definitely other ways to draw the district lines here in Kingman/Golden Valley/Arizona strip; and a plan which creates a significant majority rural district north of Kingman does not violate the Arizona Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, or the principles laid out by Mr. Sissons. On the other hand, the BOS plan indeed violates these guidelines and the Constitution. So this naturally begs the question: Why? Either Tony Sissons drew a plan that violates his own words, or someone else drew these district lines. That is the essence of gerrymandering, no matter what the reason.

So what are the citizens of Mohave County going to do about it? I can see November 2012 from here.