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With redistricting ahead, county waits on census numbers
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With redistricting ahead, county waits on census numbers

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As an independent commission works on new maps for legislative and congressional districts across the state, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors will soon be starting the same process for county districts.

The work comes following last year’s once-a-decade census count, which is designed to provide updated and accurate population totals across the county.

The new maps will determine what areas make up each of the county’s five districts, each represented by one member of the Board of Supervisors. But because of the pandemic, the county is on an abbreviated timeline to draw those maps.

The new maps, which also apply to the governing board of Coconino Community College, need to be finalized and approved by December. But the county still hasn’t received the population counts, which are numbers it needs to draw up the maps.

The statewide independent commission only received the data it needed to begin the redistricting process from the census bureau last month.

County Manager Steve Peru told the board this week that those numbers should be delivered to the county by the end of September at the latest, although that information could be coming sooner.

The county may be waiting on more specific data, but initial numbers released by the census show Coconino County’s population grew by about 11,000 over the last decade, which equates to about 7.9% growth.

The population in 2010 was 134,421 while the population in 2020 was counted at 145,101.

Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen said they also need to draw up initial precinct maps by October 1.

Unlike redistricting, precinct mapping occurs every year and is based on voter registration numbers, something the county already has without needing to wait on the Census Bureau.

Those precincts may be changed after October, but they act as the sort of puzzle pieces that county staff can use when drawing new district maps, when more local data is delivered.

“It is a little bit about building the puzzle and seeing how do we balance the population? And then how do we respect communities of interest?,” Peru said. “We look at the precincts more easily moved; building blocks to move from from one district to the other. We don't want to do a lot of precinct splitting, because that ends up in some cases confusing the voter in terms of what precinct by vote at so that why we want to be really mindful.”

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Peru said once the county receives that data from the census, which will include not only new population totals for specific areas of the county but also information on the age and ethnicity of populations, county staff will get to work drawing up a variety of maps before taking them to the board for review.

Although it may depend on when the county receives that information, Peru said they hope to have new maps ready to be reviewed before the end of the month. A meeting to discuss the issue is scheduled for September 28.

“We'll then take those scenarios out to the public during the month of October, possibly a little into November to get feedback on what those scenarios are from the general public,” Peru said.

That is also when they will be doing outreach to stakeholder groups who may want to weigh in on the new maps, Peru said.

Peru said staff are currently working to identify some of those stakeholder groups and communities of interest.

Each of the 5 districts should contain about a fifth of the total population, but Peru said in his experience, the county tends to growth spread somewhat unevenly across the county.

Areas around Flagstaff tend to see significantly more growth than other more rural parts of the county, and at times, some areas have seen their total population drop.

And that can make drawing new districts that all contain similarly sized populations somewhat more difficult.

To ensure residents have a similar level of representation, districts are supposed to have no more than a 10% difference in population from one another, and no more than a 5% difference in population than the ideal number, Hansen said.

“Historically what we have seen in the county is district one, and district three tend to exceed the max. What we have also seen is that district 2 tends to be within the range and then districts four and five tend to be under the minimum,”

All the while, other factors must also be taken into account such as preserving communities of interest within the same district. Those can include everything from chapters on the Navajo Nation, cities and towns, fire districts and school districts.

Finally, Peru said they will work to preserve districts that give representation to minority voices.

“So in our case, in district five, which is the northeastern part of the county where Page is located, the majority minority population there is our indigenous population,” Peru said.

Peru said district four has the county’s second highest indigenous population while there is a significant Hispanic population in district two. Ensuring those populations have good representation on the board, and have the opportunity to elect their candidates to county government, is an important consideration, Peru said.

Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at askabelund@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund. 

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