Arizona redistricting panel picks mapping consultant

The commission that will redraw Arizona’s political district lines later this year chose a company to crunch Census data and create maps on a split vote that marked the second time the panel’s Democrats were outvoted.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission chose a Virginia-based engineering company that partnered with a California-based firm that specializes in redistricting as its mapping consultant. The Timmons Group has offices in Phoenix and partnered with the California-based National Demographics Corporation on its bid. National Demographics was the mapping consultant for the 2001 commission.

The two Democrats on the redistricting panel opposed the choice, marking the second key hire where they split with the two Republicans on the commission and the independent chair sided with the GOP members.

National Democrats also opposed Timmons Group, saying it was aligned with the GOP and had a history of drawing maps unfavorable to Latino communities. Republicans were strongly opposed to another of the applicants, HaystaqDNA, which is led by executives who were employed by the mapping firm involved in Arizona’s 2011 redistricting.

The commission was similarly split when they chose an executive director in March. The mapping consultant is important because its data and maps help the commission divvy up Arizona’s population into congressional and legislative districts.

On May 4, the panel’s two Democrats praised the process used to assess the three companies that applied to be mapping consultants, but said they disagreed with the final choice. Commissioner Shereen Lerner said HaystaqDNA gave a much better proposal.

Republican Commissioner David Mehl praised Timmons Group’s presentation and said they "had a huge amount of expertise in redistricting."

Tuesday’s meeting came a week after the U.S. Census Bureau dropped a bombshell on Arizona politics when it released initial national population counts showing Arizona would not get a 10th congressional district next year. That should make the redrawing of district lines easier, although it crushed the hopes of politicians who were considering running in a new district.

Census officials are not expected to deliver needed data from the 2020 Census until late summer, meaning the commission can’t begin drawing new maps until early October. It must complete the job by early 2022.

The redistricting commission was created by voters in 2000 to limit political influence by the Legislature in redrawing congressional and legislative district maps. The process that follows each U.S. Census is politically important because redrawn district lines can limit how many legislative and U.S. House seats each party can realistically win.

Republicans generally liked the district maps drawn after the 2000 Census, and those done following the 2010 Census were regarded as more favorable to Democrats, prompting strong criticism from Republicans.

The 2001 and 2011 maps led to prolonged court challenges, including a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Arizona voters’ decision to strip the redistricting process from the Legislature.

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