‘This is a complete joke’: Redistricting group fails to approve new map amid outcry over process

Nov 16, 2021, 11:38 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm
Redistricting ,senator...
The Capitol building in Olympia. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With the clock having expired on the deadline to finalize a legislative redistricting map for Washington, state commissioners report that they have failed to come to an agreement.

Washington Republicans, Dems spar over redrawing of state’s legislative map

The commission is comprised of four members — two Democrats and two Republicans — who have sparred over their respective proposals for months now.

Early maps proposed by the two Republicans on the Washington State Redistricting Commission (WSRC) had sought to create more swing districts, defined as areas where Republican and Democratic vote tallies were within three points in the 2020 statewide election. Under Washington’s current alignment, there are six such districts, while maps pitched by GOP WSRC members would have expanded that to as many as 15.

Democrats on the commission, though, believed the state’s new districts should focus more on “fair representation for communities of color,” among other priorities, and would have cut the number of so-called swing districts down to three. State Democrats also questioned the validity of how swing districts were being classified, alleging that voter tallies from statewide candidates often differ compared to legislative races.

After a five-hour meeting on Monday where commissioners hoped to come to an accord on a final map, the clock struck midnight, with the commission’s chair appearing to indicate that an agreement had been reached. Rumors then swirled for much of Tuesday morning, particularly over the closed-door nature of the night’s proceedings, which some claimed violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

The WSRC then canceled a scheduled 10 a.m. news conference, instead sending out a press release roughly an hour later, which read:

Last night, after substantial work marked by mutual respect and dedication to the important task, the four voting commissioners on the state redistricting commission were unable to adopt a districting plan by the midnight deadline.

The late release of the 2020 census data combined with technical challenges hampered the commission’s work considerably.

Moving forward, it will now be up to the state Supreme Court to adopt a districting plan. The WSRC noted that it has “every faith that the Supreme Court will draw maps that are fair and worthy of the people of Washington.”

Seattle begins process of redrawing city’s council districts

The process itself has also garnered criticism in the wake of the WSRC’s failure to approve a new map. Previously, commissioners had until January 1 in the year following the release of a new census. But in 2016, voters approved a measure moving the deadline to mid-November to make it so the map could take effect in time for the next scheduled election.

As Pierce County Councilmember Derek Young pointed out on Twitter, though, that has yet to yield positive results. Prior to the deadline being moved up, state commissioners hadn’t failed to approve a map since the WSRC was first formed in 1991.

“There should be hard deadlines leading up to try to avoid the problem,” Young said. “I don’t think this has been successful a single time since passage by voters.”

“If a local government did anything like this the Legislature would spend months scolding every city and county across the state for months,” he added. “This is a complete joke.”

Others have criticized the confusion that surrounded the final minutes leading into the midnight deadline.

“The Redistricting Commission not only failed to meet the statutory deadline, but it also declined to interact with the public during public meetings, limited accessibility in critical moments, and grossly disregarded transparency expectations,” Yakima City Councilmember Dulce Gutierrez said in a press release sent on behalf of a group known as Redistricting Justice for Washington (RJW).

“We are deeply disappointed in the commissioners inability to reach an agreement on maps by the constitutional deadline last night and the lack of transparency and meaningful public engagement throughout the commission’s process,” RJW policy analyst Joseph Lachman agreed.

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‘This is a complete joke’: Redistricting group fails to approve new map amid outcry over process