UPDATE: The Washington State Supreme Court decided to allow the redistricting process to continue Dec. 3. The maps presented by the redistricting commission, despite being late, will move forward for presentation to state legislators by Dec. 15 in accordance with state law.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission failed to meet the deadline to submit its plans for new congressional and legislative district maps Nov. 15. Responsibility for redistricting now goes to the state Supreme Court, with a deadline of April 30.
The commission, with Republicans Paul Graves and Joe Fain, Democrats April Sims and Brady Walkinshaw, and nonvoting Chair Sarah Augustine, began its work nearly a year ago. It held 17 public meetings and 22 business meetings, received thousands of comments and provided a mapping tool that allowed the public to submit third-party maps.
Redistricting is required by law once the census is completed every decade. Because each district must have the same number of people and population growth is uneven, boundaries must be redrawn. Legislatures are responsible in some states, often resulting in gerrymandered districts that protect the party in power. Washington has had a bipartisan commission appointed by each of the state house and senate caucuses and a non-voting chair since 1983. This was the fourth time a commission has met and the first time it failed to meet the deadline.
Commissioners could not start mapping until the census data, historically available in April, was released in mid-August. Each commissioner posted their initial map recommendations on the commission’s website, www.redistricting.wa.gov, in September.
Those attending the virtual meeting Nov. 15 watched a silent screen with brief appearances by the commissioners, who reported that they were making progress.
Minutes before midnight, Augustine appeared to take a vote where all commissioners approved both redistricting maps, and then abruptly adjourned the meeting.
A press conference scheduled for the following day was canceled and late that night, nearly 24 hours after the deadline, the legislative and congressional district maps were posted on the website with a statement from Augustine.
“While we acknowledge we missed the deadline for our maps to be considered by the Legislature, we see no reason why the court can’t do so,” Augustine said. “These maps reflect the input of the thousands of people who took part in the process with us. It would be a shame to see these maps go unconsidered simply because the clock struck 12.”
At a press conference Nov. 18, the commissioners said they had all endorsed the maps and hoped the court would accept them. Commissioners also blamed the last-minute crunch on the pandemic-related delay in receiving census data as well as technical issues, including computer failures.
All commissioners praised Augustine for her role. “When negotiations broke down, her mediation skills brought us back together,” Sims said.
Graves said that five incumbents would lose their positions with the commission’s redistricting.
If the posted maps are accepted, the Key Peninsula will remain in relatively unchanged 6th congressional and 26th legislative districts.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor will stay together,” said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young (D-7th). Two of the proposed maps separated the two peninsulas and moved the Key Peninsula to the 35th LD, which includes all of Mason and parts of Thurston and Kitsap counties.
Young said he thinks the court will be inclined to accept the proposed maps, but that there might be additional considerations. The court may want to confirm that the population numbers are accurate. Sometimes lines are drawn to protect incumbents, and those could be changed.
Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-Port Orchard) said she is hopeful the court will accept the maps submitted by the commission. “There is so much at stake. I look at how much time and energy all the commissioners spent.”
Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) said she was frustrated by the final stages of the commission’s process. “They did a good job of soliciting public comment, more than any previous redistricting commission, but at the end it felt non-transparent and potentially non-compliant with the public meetings act.”
Both Caldier and Randall said that if final maps are not released by the court until April 30, it would be a nightmare for candidates, who must register their intent to run for office between May 2 and 20. Both said they hope final decisions come well before the required deadline.
Pierce County will complete its own redistricting plan by the end of the year. Young said there are not likely to be big changes. The 7th Council District, which includes the Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor and part of Tacoma, will probably expand into a small part of central Tacoma.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS