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“The Impact”: Redrawing the Political Map, Senate Leaders Debate Redistricting

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

Every ten years the Washington State Redistricting Commission redraws the political boundaries that determine how your votes are pooled.

The 2020 census found that Washington added nearly a million people over the last ten years. State legislative and congressional district lines are up for review again.

It’s a technical, drawn out, process called reapportionment. The process involves carving the state into chunks that each contain a specific number of people. The  end result is a complicated looking map that can directly affect the balance of political power in the state, how many districts are likely to vote democrat or republican, and whether your immediate community votes as a block or your votes are divided and lumped in with those of people who may live an hour or more away. Legislators representing the democratic and republican caucuses in the Washington State House and Senate appoint one member each to the redistricting commission. A fifth non-voting member is selected to keep the process on track as chair. 

The four voting commissioners selected this year are:

  • April Sims, a union executive with the Washington State Labor Council, appointed by  the House Democratic  Caucus.
  • Paul Graves, a former republican state representative appointed by the House Republican Caucus.
  • Brady Walkinshaw, a former democratic state representative and CEO of Grist, appointed by the Senate Democratic  Caucus.
  • and Joe Fain, President and CEO of the Bellevue Chamber and a former republican state senator appointed by the Senate Republican Caucus.

The fifth commissioner is SarahAugustine, Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima And Kittitas Counties, and the non-voting chair of the redistricting commission elected by the four voting members. 

All of the proposed new district maps put out by the four commission members would move some districts, bumping incumbent legislators in both parties out of their current districts, but the specifics vary significantly between competing maps. 

For example, both of the maps proposed by democratic appointees would shift Aberdeen from the 19th Legislative District to the 24th Legislative District. That means  Aberdeen’s votes would be lumped in with votes from Port Angeles and Port Townsend in the north instead of Long Beach and Longview to the south.  Both of the republican appointees proposed keeping Aberdeen in the 19th District.

Commissioner Graves argues his legislative district map would make state elections more competitive and nearly double the number of swing districts from 6 to 11 in contrast to the maps from both democratic  appointees which would result in a total of three swing districts. Democratic  party representatives dispute his portrayal of the impact- and suggest it would actually just increase the number of republican leaning districts in Washington.

Commissioner Fain’s plan was reportedly drawn with an eye toward keeping school systems together in districts.  Fain’s proposal would also unite the city of Bremerton which is currently split between legislative districts. Bremerton would be entirely located within the 23rd District

 Commissioner  Sims plan would reportedly create nine majority POC districts. Over in the Yakima Valley the proposal would unify a majority Hispanic voting block  that is currently divided between two different state legislative districts into one district that would would also encompass the Yakama Nation reservation.

Commissioner Walkinshaw’s plan would also unite the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Hispanic communities in the 14th District.

Like Fain, Walkinshaw proposes unifying the city of Bremerton, but unlike Fain,  Walkinshaw proposes moving the boundaries of the 26th District to encompass the city.   

The Congressional and State Legislative redistricting proposals are just a starting point. At least three of the four commissioners must agree  on the final maps. The commission has until November 15th, 2021 to approve maps and submit their proposals to the legislature. Lawmakers would then be able to make limited changes with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers. If the redistricting commission fails to approve maps in time, the Washington State Supreme Court could take over the process and draw maps which would be unamendable.

This Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) and Senate Republican Leader John Braun (R-Centralia) are sharing their perspectives on the redistricting process, the political battle lines and opportunities for common ground. 

“Electoral competition doesn’t mean that every race has to come down to a close race between a democrat and a republican,” said Billig. “When you look at the last cycle of 2020 the most competitive race in it was between two democrats.”

“Look, every majority in the country wants to eliminate swing districts. That’s how they stay in the majority,” said Braun. “We’re probably going to have more safe democratic districts than safe republican districts, but we ought to give the people a choice.” “

“To suggest that for ten years we’re going to have a safe supermajority for one party, that doesn’t seem in line with the law,” said Braun.