Republicans seeking to void Arizona’s redrawn voter districts over claims they favor Democrats said a Democratic party operative had his “hands all over” the maps and that the commission responsible for them was biased.
The Republican voters accused the Independent Redistricting Commission of “a pattern of discriminatory intent” as a three-day non-jury trial began yesterday in Phoenix federal court over their fight to have the legislative districts redrawn.
“The chairperson, who is supposed to be independent,” demonstrated “sympathy for the Democratic Party,” Republican lawyer David Cantelme said yesterday in opening arguments. “The election director for the Democratic Party had his hands all over the map-drawing process.”
Cantelme alleged that a tainted process resulted in Arizona districts eight, 24 and 26 becoming Democratic Party-held. He seeks a ruling from the three-judge panel, made up of two Republican and one Democratic-appointee, that the districts are unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the commission rejected the allegations. Because the maximum population difference among the redrawn districts is less than 10 percent, the redistricting plan is legally presumed constitutional, the commission said. That puts the burden on opponents to show variances were the result of an unconstitutional policy, the commission said.
Cantelme said yesterday he would show that the chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, in her application for the position, didn’t disclose donations by her or her husband to the Democratic Party. Cantelme said he will also argue that the “majority of the commissioners” froze out Republicans on the panel.
In his opening statement, Phoenix attorney Colin F. Campbell, who represents the defendants, said “Every map drawn by this commission was done in public session.”
He told the panel, led by Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, that the commission followed standard procedures of redistricting and created “equal districts throughout the state.”
Campbell said the commission “had to protect the ability of minority populations to elect candidates of their choice,” and acted accordingly in their map-making. He said the commission’s map-making sought to protect the voting rights of “Hispanic and Native American populations” throughout the state.
Silver was appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The other panel members, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Clifton, and U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, were appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican.
The commission systematically packed districts with Republican majorities while leaving districts with Democratic majorities under-populated 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 claimed.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, unsuccessfully tried last year to fire Mathis. Brewer accused Mathis, a registered Independent, and other commissioners of conducting business in secret and not following constitutional requirements when they adopted draft maps of electoral districts.
Arizona’s Supreme Court overruled the governor, saying sufficient cause hadn’t been demonstrated.
Leading 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.
Arizona has 30 members in its Senate and 60 members in its House of Representatives; each district is represented by one senator and two house members. 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.
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.
“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 court filing.
Commissioner Richard Stertz was the first witness for the plaintiffs yesterday.
Stertz, a Tucson general contractor, testified that in 2011 he was appointed to the commission by a Republican, then-state senate president Russell Pearce.
Stertz testified that when he joined, he wasn’t made aware of any contributions to the Democratic Party made by Mathis.
He said, in response to questions from Cantelme, that it would have been “material” to him had he known of such donations.
The plaintiffs allege that Dennis “D.J.” Quinlan, at the time the election director of the Democratic Party in Arizona, exchanged map files and e-mails with the two Democratic members of the commission, Linda McNulty and Jose Herrera, that showed they were looking at where incumbent legislators lived in particular districts.
Quinlan, who is scheduled to testify at the trial, also received from McNulty login information for the computer system of the mapping consultant the commission used. McNulty provided the consultant with a thumb drive that contained significant change to two districts, the Republican plaintiffs said.
McNulty said in a pretrial deposition that she didn’t recall whether she made the changes herself or “with D.J.’s help,” according to a March 11 court filing.
The commission said Quinlan’s involvement with redistricting has been publicly known and that, even if Quinlan was involved in preparing possible changes on the thumb drive, no changes were made to the map unless it was considered by the commission, according to a March 12 court filing.
Quinlan, who is now executive director of the Democratic Party in Arizona, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the testimony.
The case is Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 12-cv-00894, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).