The Independent Redistricting Commission began the final push Thursday to creating maps that ensure minorities can elect who they want in 10 of the state's 30 legislative districts.
Commission members essentially locked in several districts where they now feel there are a sufficient number of Hispanics or Native Americans to guarantee they have a say in the elections for the next decade. A final vote will come after commissioners get updated data on the exact effect of their moves on minority voting strength.
The goal is ensuring that the maps get the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice which has the right to ensure that nothing done dilutes minority voting strength.
Right now there are nine such "majority minority'' districts in the state, with one more considered close. The hope is to create 10 solid districts where there are enough minorities to elect who they want.
But the effort resulted in commission members and their consultants spending the day literally looking for Hispanics. And that is causing ripple effects.
For example, commissioners want to ensure that a district which stretches from Yuma to the southwest edge of Tucson has sufficient minorities.
But it's not that simple.
Bruce Adelson, a former Department of Justice official who now is a consultant, said the number of Hispanics is insufficient to satisfy that agency. And even the number of voting-age Hispanics leaves something to be desired, he said, as the record shows Hispanics tend to turn out at the polls in much lower percentages than most other groups.
What that means, Adelson said, is analyzing how people have voted in the last few elections on a precinct-by-precinct basis -- and moving lines accordingly.
The moves to create safe districts for minorities are having ripple effects.
In the case of that Yuma district, the plan is to shed some neighborhoods with "non-crossover Anglos,'' meaning people who are not minorities and have shown they are less likely to support a minority candidate.
But that move forced the commissioners to find Hispanic neighborhoods to add. They found them in southwest Tucson, moving those areas into that district with Yuma.
That, however, slightly weakens the Hispanic voting strength of what's left of that southwest Tucson district. So the plan is to shift some Anglo neighborhoods into the non-minority district that includes Marana, but pulling in Hispanics from a more central Tucson district.
Once consultants analyze the effect of those changes, then further tweaks may be necessary in other districts to ensure that their population remains close to the target of about 213,067.
Similar shifts are taking place in southeast Arizona. But here the issue is slightly different, though minority voting remains a factor.
The draft maps had split the county between two districts, with Douglas and Bisbee in one district stretching all the way into south Tucson and the remainder of the county in another district including Vail, Green Valley and Safford.
That split brought complaints. So the proposal is to incorporate Bisbee and Douglas into the district with the rest of the county.
That, however, creates other issues.
One relates to population. So one possibility is to shift the largely Republican and Anglo Green Valley into a district that now runs from Nogales all the way up to 22nd Street in Tucson.
But that complicates efforts to keep that district's minority voting strength where it needs to be.
Potentially more problematic, Adelson said that this new district which encompasses all of Cochise County is not as strongly Hispanic as one of the existing districts it will replace. He said the Department of Justice might be "problematic.''
Commission members also looked at some changes in the two congressional districts dominated by minority voters but made no firm changes.
How quickly the panel can have final maps remains unclear.