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Democrats want Arizona to reject mapping firm's application to redraw districts

The Hill logo The Hill 5/4/2021 Rafael Bernal
Ruben Gallego wearing a suit and tie sitting at a table: Democrats want Arizona to reject mapping firm's application to redraw districts © Greg Nash Democrats want Arizona to reject mapping firm's application to redraw districts

Democrats are calling on Arizona's independent redistricting board to reject applications to draw maps from a group whose top official has served as an expert witness for Republican legislators in gerrymandering cases.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Committee (IRC) is due to vote Tuesday on which companies it will hire to perform the demographic analysis and draw redistricting maps based on the 2020 census.

All On The Line, a campaign affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formally called on IRC on Thursday to reject an application to be the mapping consultants presented by Timmons Group and National Demographics Corporation (NDC).

"Arizonans cannot trust NDC to be in a position of drafting maps that could potentially undermine representation," said Kendra Alvarez, Arizona All On The Line state director, in a statement.

"To continue living up to its promise of redistricting reform, the IRC must hire a mapping firm that is impartial and fair. It's evident that Timmons Group + NDC is not the right choice. AOTL will continue working to ensure that this process is transparent and results in equitable maps that fairly represent voters in every corner of the state," said Alvarez.

Democrats say NDC was "involved with maps" that were later ruled discriminatory, like the boundaries for the Kern County, Calif., Board of Supervisors.

NDC has been involved in drawing hundreds of political maps based on demographic analysis, including many at the local level in Arizona, according to its president, Douglas Johnson.

To compete for the statewide redistricting contract, NDC partnered with Timmons Group, a national firm that implements ESRI, an advanced geographical mapping software.

NDC was the mapping consultant for Arizona's first redistricting commission in 2001, an exercise that was ultimately rejected by the Department of Justice.

"NDC has a history of drawing maps that are to the disadvantage of Latino communities," said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).

In 2018, a federal judge approved redrawing district maps in Kern County after the original maps were found to have unconstitutionally split Latino communities in the area, undermining their voting power.

"The court concludes that Latino voters in Kern County have been deprived of an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice," wrote Judge Dale Drozd of the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of California in his ruling.

Johnson told The Hill he had no involvement in drawing the Kern County maps, but was brought in years later to serve as an expert witness in the case where the maps were struck down.

Johnson said his work applying demographic research to electoral maps often renders him and his company the targets of political attacks.

"It's painful but it's also validation because we work very hard to be non partisan," said Johnson.

Still, Democrats say both NDC's history and Johnson's personal history make the company unsuitable to draw Arizona's new political maps.

In 2019, Johnson served as an expert witness for Republican lawmakers in a North Carolina trial over gerrymandering, and had part of his testimony thrown out after admitting it was incorrect.

The three-judge panel threw out Johnson's testimony where he minimized the influence of maps drawn by Thomas Hofeller on the state's 2017 redistricting maps.

Johnson said only a fraction of his testimony was thrown out in that case, adding that he used a new statistical method to compare maps, leading to a technical error where he overlooked the similarity between the implemented maps and Hofeller's proposal.

Hofeller had also drawn North Carolina's 2011 maps, which were overturned for gerrymandering on racial grounds.

Hofeller, a former Republican National Committee consultant, gained some notoriety after his death, when his daughter made public the contents of his hard drive, including a 2015 report on how to make redistricting "advantageous to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites."

The Timmons Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

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