For all Capitol Hill residents on the edge of their seat wondering if the neighborhood will remain at the center of the state’s 43rd Legislative District, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. For the first time since its creation, the Washington State Redistricting Commission has failed to finalize a new set of maps for congressional and state legislative districts. The process will now go to the state Supreme Court leaving the final decision on borders determining legislative representation neighborhood by neighborhood across the state in the hands of judges.
For the 43rd, the court’s decisions are most likely to result in minor changes with the commission’s “approved” — but not final — map proposal adding southern Laurelhurst in exchange for lopping off areas around Green Lake. But some of the commission member proposals for the 43rd show just how complicated the process can get.
State law required a November 15th deadline for the commissioners to develop the new maps. The reshaping of the state’s boundaries were planned to be in place in time for the 2022 midterm elections.
Created by state constitutional amendment in the 1980’s, the commission first created maps in 1991, after the 1990 census. A different group of commissioners are appointed each time. Two people are appointed by Democrats and two by Republicans. Those four then appoint a non-voting, fifth member to act as chair.
For a map to be approved, at least three of the voting members must agree on it. The idea was to take the process out of the hands of a partisan Legislature, which in many states leads to lawmakers drawing maps that nakedly favor one party over the other. Washington’s process typically leads to the vast majority of the seats being safe for one party or the other, while a handful are competitive.
This year’s commission included former Capitol Hill state Rep. Brady Pinero Walkinshaw as one of the Democratic representatives, along with April Sims. In an on-brand move for the Republicans, their commissioners were both straight white men, Paul Graves and Joe Fain. Sarah Augustine served as chair.
You might not be surprised that some of the most disruptive changes to the Democratic stalwart 43rd District were put forward in the Republican proposals:
Commissioners had a bit of a late start this year, since Covid delayed the U.S. Census Bureau report that contained the necessary demographic data for commissioners to draw districts. However, a statement by the chair admitting the failure declined to blame the pandemic, or anyone. It simply acknowledged that they missed the deadline, and thanked the many people who participated in the process.
Major disputes arose over areas far from the 43rd and centered on whether or not to draw a majority Hispanic state legislative district in the Yakima area. Another was whether or not to split the Yakima Reservation into two different districts.
Closer to home was a dispute about south-end Seattle neighborhoods, and if they should be in the congressional district with the rest of Seattle, or with suburban cities south of Seattle.
There may have been more issues, but commissioners have been tight lipped. The November 15 negotiations were not open to the public, and commission members have not given interviews to any media outlets.
Now the state Supreme Court will decide. According to state law, the court has until April 30 to adopt the plan. In an interesting wrinkle, while the commission plan could be amended by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, that does not apply to a plan developed by the Supreme Court. Its map will be final.
The court is now working to develop a process for how it will draw the maps. While typically considered left-leaning, that doesn’t necessarily mean their maps will favor Democrats.
The state isn’t the only game in town when it comes to new maps. The group re-drawing King County Council maps, which we wrote about in October is holding its final public hearing at 2 p.m. Nov. 30 online. The group re-drawing the Seattle City Council maps is holding its next meeting at 11:45 a.m. Nov. 30, also online.
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