A Republican voter challenge to Arizona’s redrawn election districts over claims they favor Democratic candidates for the state Legislature will be decided by a three-member panel of federal judges.
A Republican voter group, in a case set for trial today in Phoenix, accuses the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission of diluting their votes “deliberately, intentionally, and in violation of the one-person/one-vote principle of the Fourteenth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. The group seeks a ruling that the electoral map is unconstitutional and must be redrawn.
The commission systematically packed districts with Republican majorities while leaving districts with Democratic majorities underpopulated to increase Democratic strength in the Legislature, the Republican voters said in a March 18 filing. There was no legitimate or constitutional reason for the population deviations among the districts, they said.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, unsuccessfully tried last year to fire Colleen Mathis, the chairwoman of the redistricting commission. Arizona’s Supreme Court overruled the governor, saying Mathis hadn’t shown “substantial neglect of duty” or “gross misconduct in office.”
Leading up to the Nov. 6 election, at least six challenges were filed to state redistricting plans in the U.S. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out judge-drawn voting districts for state and federal elections in Texas, ordering a lower court to create maps more similar to those drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature.
Of 17 legislative districts in Arizona that have a Republican plurality -- more registered Republican voters than any voters registered with another party -- 16 have more residents than the ideal population of 213,067, according to the plaintiffs. Only two of the districts with a Democratic plurality exceed the ideal population, they said.
Brewer accused Mathis, a registered independent, and other commissioners of conducting business in secrecy and not following constitutional requirements when they adopted draft maps of electoral districts.
As the only independent on the commission, Mathis was selected as its leader by the other members, two of whom were chosen by Republicans in the Legislature and two by Democrats. The commission was created by a voter referendum in 2000 and is one of the few politically unaligned bodies of its sort in the U.S.
“Plaintiffs will not be able to meet their burden that the actual reason for the population deviations is improper partisanship or that the commission otherwise acted for an improper purpose when it approved a map with minor population deviations among districts,” the commission said in a March 18 court filing.
Because the maximum population difference among the redrawn districts is less than 10 percent, the redistricting plan is legally presumed to be constitutional, the commission said. That puts the burden in court on the plan opponents to show that the variances were the result of an unconstitutional policy, the commission said.
The case is Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 12-cv-00894, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
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