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The author and historian David McCullough has often noted that it’s important when reading history to be aware that none of those involved at the time know how the story is going to turn out.

That was certainly the case 10 years ago this week when the Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments in a case brought after I was accused by Gov. Jan Brewer of gross misconduct and substantial neglect of duty in my volunteer role as chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

The governor didn’t like our draft voting maps and sought to exploit a provision in the Arizona Constitution that allowed for removal of a commissioner in extraordinary circumstances with Senate concurrence. At the time, there were 21 Republicans and only nine Democrats in the Senate, and that partisan supermajority was enough to ratify her actions in a special session.

Fortunately, in my case, the story turned out well.

Today’s maps better reflect Arizona voters

The Arizona Supreme Court, which then included three Republican justices, two of whom had been appointed by Gov. Brewer herself, and two Democrats, courageously took the case and ruled unanimously within two hours of the hearing.

I was immediately reinstated to my position, which allowed our commission to get back to business, listen to feedback, further adjust and then finalize our draft congressional and legislative maps. We went on to win all five of the lawsuits brought against us, two of which went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Both of our voting maps were precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice on the first try for the first time in Arizona history and remained in place for 10 years.

Today, our maps are much more reflective of the actual partisan makeup of voters in the state, which is roughly one-third Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third independent.

We have more balanced representation in the Legislature, with 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the state Senate and 31 Republicans and 29 Democrats in the state House, one-seat majorities rather than supermajorities.

On the congressional map, one of our nine districts was so competitive that it flipped back and forth three times during the decade between Democratic and Republican control, with one race being decided by only 167 votes.

Arizona is a model for independent redistricting

Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 28, 2021. From left to right: Shereen Lerner, Derrick Watchman, Erika Neuberg, David Mehl, Douglas York.

Now, Arizona is once again in the process of redistricting based on the results of the recently completed decennial census. Our state is a model for the nation when it comes to independent redistricting and an increasing number of states have followed suit, including California, Colorado and Michigan.

While it’s impossible to remove partisanship from the task of drawing political boundaries, independent commissions bring the task of redrawing those lines to the people who will be represented by those elected under them. That’s why it’s so important for citizens to engage with the current commission and provide constructive, specific and respectful input rooted in our redistricting constitutional criteria on where those lines should go.

We should also be clear-eyed about the limits of independent redistricting and the detrimental impact of gerrymandered, noncompetitive districts.

Safe seats have resulted in ever more extreme candidates and officeholders. Low-turnout partisan primaries cater to candidates with the most highly partisan positions and rhetoric. This dynamic allows a very small minority of the electorate to determine the policy directions and future of an entire state.

Other reforms would help moderate our politics

Any electoral reform that has potential to produce more moderation and compromise would be of great benefit to our state.

Two reforms are particularly worthy of serious consideration:

  • Open primaries, in which all voters choose the top two or top five candidates to advance to the general election regardless of party.

  • Ranked-choice voting, where candidates benefit from being a voter’s second or third choice.

While we still don’t know how our broader story of self-governance will turn out, we should embrace existing reforms like independent redistricting and seek to implement others that help ensure our system will not only be functional but flourishing.

In this season of Thanksgiving, let’s all be grateful for what we’ve inherited and often take for granted, a system made up of three branches of government with built-in checks and balances, and redouble our efforts to be worthy and engaged stewards of democracy.

Colleen Coyle Mathis, an independent, is the immediate past chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. On Twitter: @ccmathis.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Independent Redistricting Commission can draw fair maps. We proved it