County recorder draws new downtown precinct

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a meet and greet event on Feb. 23, 2017. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office has redrawn a precinct encompassing a large swath of downtown, pending approval from the Board of Supervisors.

The downtown precinct will stretch from roughly 19th Avenue to First Avenue. This area is currently included in the northern parts of the Dunbar and Lowell precincts.

The recorder’s office updates the precinct map after every presidential election and sometimes up to every two years. The goals this time are to decrease the number of voters in each precinct as needed, minimize the number of district types in each precinct and to avoid splitting communities of interest such as homeowners’ associations and Native American communities.

“We’re kind of cleaning up the map number one,” Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said. “Number two we want to make sure we can have better accountability and better reporting back for those jurisdictions.”

Redrawing the lines and adding the downtown precinct reduces the number of city council districts in each precinct in the area to accomplish one of these goals.

The Dunbar and Lowell precincts currently include parts of both City Council Districts 8 and 7. The new downtown precinct will only include District 7.

The Dunbar precinct will be effectively dissolved and split between Lowell and Downtown. Downtown will have roughly 3500 voters while the Lowell precinct will grow from just under 4000 to a little over 5000 voters.

Other precincts in the downtown area including the Westward Ho, Hilton and Wilshire precincts are not changing as a part of this process.

The office’s goal is to have between 4,000 and 5,000 voters per precinct and no more than 2,000 voters in each precinct who have not signed up for the permanent early voting list. Fontes said precincts that did not meet these requirements were subject to change.

“We looked for those precincts that were not only outside those particular numerical requirements but had some other kinds of splits and stuff like that,” Fontes said. “Those precincts were the ones that were really subjected to change.”

According to the Recorder’s office the new map increases the population of minority voters in the Lowell precinct from 76 percent to almost 91 percent. In contrast the downtown precinct will have a minority voting population of 57 percent.

The downtown precinct located on the south-western edge of the downtown Phoenix area also does not include many areas and landmarks typically associated with downtown Phoenix, despite its name. The city of Phoenix considers downtown to stretch from Seventh Street to Third Avenue and the railroad tracks to Fillmore.

Fontes said the names are purely arbitrary and have no real meaning.

“The names are merely a vanity,” Fontes said. “Everything we do on our precincts is based on a number not on the name. So, the names are really just monikers. In fact, most elections systems in the country just use numbers and don’t use names at all.”

The Recorder’s office is currently in the public input portion of the redistricting process. In previous years public input was limited. During this redistricting, Fontes said the public input portion has focused primarily on educating people about the process.

“We wanted the public input because this is their process,” Fontes said. “It’s their precincts. It’s their government and there’s no reason to keep any of these processes from public view. This should’ve been open to the public the whole time and I think government should be as open and as transparent as possible.”

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office is holding a public input meeting in the downtown area on Sept. 19 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center.

Fontes said after his office is done collecting the public input they will submit their final draft to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The board will then have until Dec. 1 to decide whether to approve the Recorder’s suggested precincts.

“That draft to the Board of Supervisors is merely our suggestion,” Fontes said. “At the end of the day they’re the ones who have the statutory authority to approve or disapprove of the map.”

If the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approves the new precinct map, the changes will take effect Jan. 1 before the primary and general elections next year.

Correction: September 15, 2017:
A previous version of this story included a comment from County Recorder Adrian Fontes which said there had previously been no public input on redistricting. His staff later clarified this was incorrect. It has been updated to note that there has been public input before previous redistricting, but it was limited

Contact the reporter at Stephanie.M.Morse@asu.edu.