Voters who reside in more than 50 homes along the edge of Ahwatukee Foothills may be surprised to find they’re not in the same congressional or legislative district as most of their neighbors.
Nearly 60 homes that back up to South Mountain were placed in Congressional District 7 and Legislative District 27. The decision, according to a redistricting attorney, was based on census information.
“The commission works off of census geography,” said Mary O’Grady, one of the attorneys for the redistricting commission. “The smallest unit of geography are blocks to which they assign population. There were a few census blocks that were predominantly on the north side of the mountain but included little pockets of population on the south side of the mountain. Because the commission relies on census geography and that was the smallest unit available, and particularly with congressional maps it has to be precise in terms of population, they, as a matter of statewide approach, couldn’t go smaller than a census block. So that’s why there are those few instances where based on the census those areas were grouped with the areas north of the mountain.”
William Desmond, senior consultant with Strategic Telemetry, the mapping consultant for the redistricting commission, said usually when there’s a mountain the census will split the mountain down the center when creating census blocks. For some reason in the 2010 census the mountain was divided a different way.
“I assume when they made this they intended to make this a solely rural block,” Desmond said. “They have a classification on the type of area it is. It’s classified as rural where everything else is suburban. They said there are 56 people in this block, but we don’t know where those 56 people are. We can look at different data sources and try to identify buildings we can see but we would have no way of knowing if 55 live here and one lives there. We have to work with that level of geography.”
There are two large census blocks that cover South Mountain. According to census information one block has 56 residents, the other has 138. Both blocks contain residents living on the north and south side of the mountain. The entire block had to be in one district. O’Grady said it causes potential legal problems to try to split up a census block because the commission would not have the exact population figures it needs. Each district needed to have 710,224 people and each time a census block was moved to a different district it had a ripple effect.
CD 9 and LD 18 are competitive districts. Those areas have many Independents and a balance of Democrats and Republicans. CD 7 and LD 27 are not as competitive. Those districts have more registered Democrats and have a history of voting Democrat.
Unfortunately for those who have been grouped in with the north side of the mountain, those lines are set for the next 10 years.
“Hopefully, they can make sure the census catches population on both sides of the mountain appropriately and does their census blocks differently in the future,” O’Grady said. “The lines are set. The lines have been pre cleared so these are the districts that we have. Because of the census geography this was the smallest unit they had available. If you moved it to pull the folks on the south side of the mountain in then you’d be pulling a whole bunch of people on the north side of the mountain in. There’d be more people from the north side in with the south side. You just have to make a call and try to affect the fewest amount of people possible and still conform to the census geography.”
The Redistricting Commission does not know how many homes from Ahwatukee Foothills are in CD 7 and LD 27. Some homes were even split in half by the census blocks. Exactly what addresses are in which districts is available through Maricopa County.
“It’s not something we didn’t know about,” Desmond said. “We spent a lot of time trying to fix the situation before the final lines were passed. Ultimately, we had to make the judgment call.”
The commission worked closely with Maricopa County to address issues. Desmond said he recalls about 160 issues the commission had to address before the final lines were accepted. The final lines were accepted in January.
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