Paranoia is inherent in redistricting, even when it’s nonpartisan redistricting. A Republican backed legal challenge against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s state legislative map went to trial last week and paranoia tainted every aspect of the case. The Republican plaintiffs pointed to overpopulated GOP districts versus under-populated Democratic districts as a sign that indeed the commission’s tie-breaking, independent chairwoman was actually a Democratic sympathizer, allowing Democrats on the panel to push through map scenarios favorable to their party.
They claim she never disclosed contributions to a Democratic candidate or her husband’s role as a Democratic strategist. The commission on the other hand, defended its maps by pointing to the openness of the map-drawing process and explained that population disparities were an attempt to comply with federal Voting Rights Act requirements.
There is also the curious case of the commission’s witness; noted professor and voting rights expert Bruce Cain, who admitted that the report the commission submitted to the Department of Justice for approval was misleading. The report described the map as having 6 Hispanic districts when there were 9 total, according to Cain. Plaintiffs point to this as clear evidence that the commission’s intent was to deceive, ostensibly to obfuscate a pronounced Democratic gerrymander. It is hard to give much weight to this claim however; since the plan’s statistics would clearly show how many Hispanic dominated districts are on the map.
The trouble is that a redistricting map is like a work of art; it stands on its own and observers are left to interpret what the creator intended. Take the Mona Lisa’s smile for instance, is she laughing with you or at you? That interpretation depends greatly on the observers’ own perspective. Counsel for the Commission said as much to the court in reply to the plaintiffs’ accusations of partisanship: “The partisanship comes from people looking in (from the outside) and second-guessing what happened,”
The three-judge court panel will have to wade through the innuendo and the facts to determine if Republicans have a case. Essentially, they must prove that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t following you.