Independent Redistricting

What is Independent Redistricting?

Every ten years, congressional and legislative district lines are redrawn to reflect population and demographic shifts recorded in the U.S. Census. While the task of redistricting has traditionally fallen upon state legislatures, in recent decades a number of states have moved to an independent redistricting process whereby commissions are appointed to help redraw district lines. The form and function of these commissions are at the discretion of the states, and differ widely from state to state. Generally, members of the commission are appointed by high-ranking state governmental officials. For state legislative districts, thirteen states currently have an independent commission with the primary responsibility of redistricting, five states have an advisory commission that assists the legislature in redistricting, and five states employ a backup commission in the event the legislature is unable to agree on redistricting. Smaller numbers of states employ various forms of commissions for congressional district lines.

Why Have Independent Redistricting?

Allowing elected officials to draw the districts they represent creates a perverse incentive to draw districts in such a way that will insulate their legislative seats from genuine competition, and/or to draw an overall map that favors the political party doing the redistricting. By placing the task of redistricting in the hands of individuals outside the legislative body, the odds of redrawing competitive district lines and representative overall maps markedly improve.

How Does Redistricting Work in Arizona?

In 2000, Arizona voters passed a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, Prop 106, that effectively moved the task of legislative and congressional redistricting from the state legislature to the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). The IRC consists of one member appointed by each party’s leader in each chamber of the state legislature (typically two Democrats and two Republicans) and an Independent Chair selected by the other four members. IRC members are selected from an applicant pool established by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. This pool contains of 25 qualified individuals; 10 from Arizona’s largest two political parties, and 5 individuals not registered with either party. From this pool, the highest ranking officials in both state legislative chambers along with the minority leaders in both houses are asked to select one nominee. Eligibility for an individual to serve on the IRC is contingent on their political work within the three years prior to appointment; specifically, individuals cannot have held or run for any public office, served as an officer for a party or campaign, or worked as a registered lobbyist anytime during this three year window. While this restriction also extends to precinct committee members, school board members and officers are notably exempt.

The IRC is required to redraw district lines along six criteria: districts must be in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act; districts must be roughly equal in population; districts must appear compact and contiguous; districts must respect communities of interest; districts must incorporate geographic features such as cities and county boundaries; districts are electorally competitive. Additionally, the IRC is barred from considering the residences of incumbents or candidates when redrawing district lines. While the IRC is responsible for carrying out redistricting for congressional and legislative districts, county and local redistricting is performed by local governments.

Is Independent Redistricting Constitutional?

In 2012, the Arizona Legislature sued the IRC for ostensibly violating the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which mandates all election matters be “prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, made its way up to the Supreme Court in 2015, where a 5-4 majority upheld the IRC’s constitutionality on the grounds that the IRC was created through a voter referendum and thereby “in accordance with the state’s prescriptions for law making.” In other words, because Arizona’s constitution divides legislative power between the state legislature and the people themselves, a voter-created system of redistricting complied with the U.S. Constitution.