Following a months-long deliberative process, on May 31st the city of Peoria unveiled its new district map to be used in the August/November 2018 city council elections.
Like Arizona’s legislative districts, Peoria’s six local districts were required to be contiguous, roughly equal in population, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. While Arizona uses an Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw legislative and congressional district maps, Peoria’s redistricting process differed through one key attribute: citizen participation at every step of the process. Beginning in January, residents were encouraged to participate in the redistricting process by attending community meetings and using a mapping application on the city’s website. From these submissions, five finalist maps were chosen for consideration and voted on by the city’s Redistricting Commission. Peoria’s redistricting process is a model of inclusion and independence from politics. Other Arizona localities differ greatly in how they respectively draw district lines.
Process in other Arizona cities
Like Peoria, Phoenix opened its most recent redistricting process in 2012 with a call for public submissions. The 69 citizen-created maps were sent to Research Advisory Services, a public policy consulting firm tasked with comparing the submissions against population and demographic information to create eight possible maps. After the City Council chose their top two choices from these eight, residents were invited to provide input on these two options, with the City Council subsequently choosing the final map.
Contracting out redistricting to a consulting firm is common in cities that use districts; Mesa, Glendale, and Surprise all voted in maps drawn up by the National Demographics Corporation, with Glendale and Surprise soliciting local input at community meetings. Tucson’s redistricting process involves resident input as well, with the City Council holding a public hearing before drawing a preliminary plan for locals to inspect.
Chandler, Gilbert, and Tempe eschew districts entirely, electing the city council and mayor through at-large (citywide) elections.
Districts vs. Citywide Elections: Which is Better?
Political science has a lot to say about this question, but there’s no easy answer. Districted elections tend to produce representatives attuned to the culture and needs of their respective constituencies. Through the redistricting process, these districts change to reflect demographic and population shifts, helping to ensure that communities of interest have the power to elect community members who adequately represent them. While redistricting raises the risk of political influence over how maps are drawn, the level of citizen involvement most of Arizona’s largest cities employ mitigates this possibility.