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Pinal wants public input on adding supervisors

by Lindsey Collom - Jul. 19, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

More people means more government representation in Pinal County's future, but officials say they need more public input to determine what expanded representation will look like.

A survey linked to the county's website, www.pinalcountyaz.gov, at www.surveymonkey.com/s/ZPJ796W, asks residents to rate factors based on level of importance to help expand Pinal's board of supervisors from three to five members.

As they carve out new supervisor districts, planners want to know public sentiment on questions such as: Should cities stay within one district or be divided? Does it matter if districts are heavily partisan?

In Arizona, counties with 200,000 or more people must be represented by five district supervisors. Pinal County now has more than 375,000 residents, up from 179,727 people in 2000.

Early survey results show Pinal County residents want districts that are politically competitive and adhere to community boundaries and political subdivisions, like fire and school districts. Less important, but still a priority, is that districts are compact.

Steve Kizer, county elections director, said 558 people have taken the online survey since early June, but officials want more participation. There are nearly 162,000 registered voters in Pinal. "It's really about making sure what is the general tone and tenor of people," Kizer said.

However, public opinion takes a backseat to the law, said Bruce Adelson, a federal compliance consultant. "If I live in Pinal and I want my community of interest to be kept whole, if that conflicted with one person one vote, that could not be considered," Adelson told county supervisors last week. "(Voting rights) are absolute. They cannot be ignored, minimized or retrogressed."

Pinal County officials hired Adelson, an attorney and former counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, to help them navigate through the redistricting process, the results of which must be approved by his former employer.

The Justice Department reviews redistricting plans to ensure compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The county must prove its plan won't impair the rights of minority voters.

Pinal elections officials are still working through demographic data and other information to come up with one or more maps for public presentation. A county Elections Department timeline shows supervisors hope to adopt a final plan by October and submit it to the Justice Department, which then has 60 days to approve or reject the plan, or request more information.

The goal is for the districts to be in place in time for new supervisors to be elected in 2012. Adelson said the county is "right on track."

"We as a board are very cognizant are of time frames," board Chairman Pete Rios said. "We want to ensure that once we have completed the redistricting process, we get pre-clearance in enough time so candidates in districts know where they are and can start getting signatures."

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