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County officials educate public on how precinct lines are drawn

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PHOENIX — At a Sept. 27 special meeting, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the boundaries of 834 proposed precinct boundaries at its Sept. 27 special meeting.

Since the board will vote on 86 newly created precincts and 133 total changes, it’s unlikely all the updates will be discussed at length during the special meeting. That’s why the hard work of Maricopa County election and judicial officials and others and this past week’s public feedback meetings were critical parts of the reprecincting process.

An online meeting Monday informed Maricopa County Supervisor District 5 residents about proposed redistricting boundaries and to collect feedback. County officials used maps and other graphics to present how District 5 — located in the southwestern part of the county and represented by Supervisor Steve Gallardo — will be carved up for voting purposes.

State law requires county boards of supervisors to approve precinct boundaries by the end of September. These will go into effect Jan. 2, 2022.

The precinct boundaries must be aligned with the boundaries of the county’s 26 justice court districts. Anna Huberman, presiding judge for the Maricopa County Justice Courts, discussed some of the recent challenges in determining court needs.

“As COVID-19 wore on, with fewer people commuting and with eviction moratoriums in place, we had fewer traffic offense and eviction proceedings,” Huberman said. “Moving forward from COVID, we don’t know exactly what numbers will be, but we expect those to generally rise.”

Huberman, along with Scott Jarrett, director of election day and emergency voting for the Maricopa County Elections Department, conducted most of the presentations. They covered a number of changes across District 5, driven mainly by new home construction and/or population growth in specific areas.

Precincts tend to take on the names of neighborhoods, developments, roads or old family names from an area. For those familiar with precinct names in a certain part of the county, there might be new names to learn.

One of many newly created precincts staff discussed at the meeting was in the Buckeye area. Recently completed residential construction and likely upcoming development led staff to create a new “Ellis” precinct, taking most of the southern half of the Estrella Foothills to form the new precinct.

The Estrella Foothills precinct will still exist, but will be reduced to a tiny northern portion of what it’s been the past few years.

Another example, from the area around 83rd Avenue in Tolleson, involves carving a new “Dos Rios” precinct, reducing the square mileage of the Cashion precinct.
The Elections Department last redrew precincts in 2018.

Reprecincting does not affect the total number of voting centers for each election, Jarrett said. One voting center is typically used to serve multiple voting precincts, and the Elections Department will determine the 2022 voting center need at a later stage, when more data will be available.

While there wasn’t much public feedback given at the late-afternoon meeting, there was a great deal of explanation given for proposed new boundaries and the conditions that make changes sensible.

Presenters discussed residential growth during the past 10 years, likely imminent growth over the next 10 years and some important guidelines in drawing precincts.

The Sept. 9 presentation was given for residents of District 4, represented by Clint Hickman. Friday, the presenters engaged with residents of District 3, the northern Valley district represented by Bill Gates.

The final phase of the county’s redistricting process — redrawing the five supervisor district boundaries — doesn’t need to be completed until July 1, 2022. However, the precinct boundaries provide building blocks for that later phase.

One goal was to get each precinct as close to 5,000 voters as possible In some cases, such fast-growing precincts in Buckeye or other areas are expected to grow, so those voter totals were kept at fewer than 5,000 voters.

There were 30 boundaries that needed to be moved because residential units or complexes were built on top of the boundaries, Jarrett said. One key is to use main roads or waterways as boundaries and to not split up neighborhoods.

“One important question we asked on changes is, ‘How many voters is this going to affect?’” Jarrett said.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is responsible for redrawing congressional and legislative district lines every 10 years after the U.S. Census results are released. However, Arizona counties are responsible for updating voting precincts, justice court precincts and Board of Supervisors district boundaries.

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