Clark, Voss and Klein: Panel’s ‘communities of interest’ rule abused

by Ken Clark, Roberta Voss and Barbara Klein – Nov. 1, 2011 12:00 AM
My Turn

In this year’s redistricting process, code words abound.

The most significant coded phrase right now is “communities of interest.” The communities-of-interest guideline is one of the state Independent Redistricting Commission’s six criteria for redrawing political maps. It is not at the top of the list of importance, nor is it at the bottom. Like the criteria of competitiveness, it must be weighed against respect for geographic boundaries and compactness.

However, of all of the six redistricting criteria, this is the one that creates the biggest loophole for manipulation. Because the term has no definition, politicians of both parties use it to organize speakers to go before the commission and support “communities of interest” that happen to protect incumbent politicians.

It happened in 2001 and it is happening again.

The concept of communities of interest has been in use for a few decades. It originates from election-integrity groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. The purpose is to make certain that people with similar interests share representation.

For instance, a farmer in rural Arizona should not be lumped in to a district with urban dwellers. However, it is impossible to meet the needs of all communities of interest, particularly in denser areas. In these areas there are more types of communities of interest to compete with each other.

When it was put in to our redistricting law, it was meant to serve as a guide and to force the commission to seek public comment. The drafters of the law understood that you couldn’t define it any further.

To be clear, we have had our complaints about the IRC. Most of all, it has not yet created enough competitive districts.

To those politicians who say that competition is a code word for “Democratic districts,” consider that the Democrats actually lost seats in the Legislature as the number of competitive seats increased (due to population growth) since the 2001 redistricting process.

In the end, competition is the best guarantor of voter choice.

Don’t be fooled by politicians selling rain. Ask the question: Whom does this “communities of interest” concern actually help? One politician or true voter choice?

Former state Reps. Ken Clark, a Democrat, and Roberta Voss, a Republican, co-chair the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition. Barbara Klein is president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona and a former health-care provider.

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