Challengers drop push to redraw AZ legislative maps; look to 2014 - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Challengers drop push to redraw AZ legislative maps; look to 2014

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Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 1:28 pm | Updated: 9:25 am, Tue May 29, 2012.

A federal court will not upset the lines drawn for the state’s 30 legislative districts, at least not this year.

Challengers to the maps drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission agreed Tuesday to drop their demand that a three-judge panel redraw the lines in time for this year’s election. Instead, attorney Mike Liburdi said he and the other attorneys will concentrate on how the state will look politically for the 2014 race.

Tuesday’s decision means that those seeking to run for office now know the boundaries of their legislative districts.

It also frees the candidates to finish filing their paperwork for the Aug. 27 primary. The deadline to file is May 30.

But Liburdi said the objections his clients have to the maps still remain. And he still intends to ask the federal court to redraw them before the 2014 race.

Leaving the commission-adopted map in place could have political implications.

Aside from allegations of legal improprieties about how the commission operated, Republicans contend the maps were drawn in a way to increase the chances of Democrats getting elected. If that proves to be true, this year’s election could break the strong GOP grip on the Legislature, where Republicans have 21 of 30 Senate seats and 40 of the 60 spots in the House.

Tuesday’s move comes less than two weeks after election officials from around the state lined up to oppose the bid by the Republican-backed group to get a court to force new lines to be drawn for this year’s legislative elections.

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne, who is leading the charge, filed legal papers to intercede in the federal court lawsuit. The county’s position is that a panel of judges being convened to look at the work of the Independent Redistricting Commission should keep their hands off the lines, at least for the time being.

She cited that May 30 filing deadline. In fact, as of midday Tuesday, 49 candidates already have filed their nominating petitions for the 90 legislative seats.

But Osborne stressed that she and the other county officials are taking no position on the merits of the lawsuit.

The fight surrounds allegations that the five-member commission, empowered by a 2000 voter-approved ballot measure to draw legislative and congressional lines, did not follow constitutional procedures in crafting the legislative districts. In fact, the challengers contend the legal problems started with the appointment of Colleen Mathis as a political independent to chair the panel since she failed to disclose the Democratic links of her husband, Chris.

Other allegations range from the choice of a firm with Democratic links as mapping consultant to ignoring the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act. The commission is not due to file its formal response until later this week.

A separate lawsuit is playing out in state court over the congressional districts.

What caused concern in this case, though, was that challengers were doing more than seeking a declaration that the maps are illegal.

Citing a provision in federal law, they demanded formation of a three-judge panel to redraw the lines themselves. More to the point, they wanted that done this year, asking the court for an injunction to block the use of the commission-adopted lines.

Tuesday’s motion eliminates that last demand.

“We ran out of time,” said David Cantelme, another of the lawyers challenging the legislative maps. He said that was almost designed to happen.

The commission finished drawing the lines in January.

But Cantelme said the maps were not submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for the required approval until the end of February. And that agency pretty much took the whole 60 days it is allotted for review.

“They ran out the clock on us,” he said of the commission.

Cantelme said the lawsuit, filed April 27, came as soon as possible following federal approval -- but obviously too close to the May 30 filing deadline.

This is not the first time foes of a redistricting map have demand for a three-judge panel to redraw the lines. The same thing occurred a decade ago. And in that case, the court, with the help of a special consultant, did come up with new lines for the 2002 race.

In that case, though, the lawsuit challenging the lines was filed earlier in the year than this one. And the primary election is now earlier than it was a decade ago.

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