Lawsuit alleges state redistricting group’s ‘secret negotiations’ defied public meeting laws

Dec 10, 2021, 8:55 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

Redistricting, long term care tax delay...

The Capitol building in Olympia, Washington. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

With the Washington Supreme Court allowing new legislative and congressional borders submitted late by a state redistricting commission to move forward, one group is filing a lawsuit over the process that led up to the approval of those maps.

Post blown redistricting deadline, state commission blames ‘partisan performance’

Initially, the Washington State Redistricting Commission (WSRC) had failed to meet its mandated deadline for approving and transmitting new maps. In a sworn statement to the state Supreme Court, the commission’s chair detailed how that was driven by an 11th-hour vote to approve the map seconds before a midnight deadline, followed by a series of technical glitches that delayed the delivery of the maps to the state Legislature.

In a subsequent letter from the WSRC to the state Supreme Court, commissioners explained how they “did not fully comprehend the time and complexity required to formalize the agreement,” while urging the court to consider implementing the late-arriving map regardless.

Several groups criticized that process in the days to follow, claiming that the closed-door nature of the commission’s proceedings where members met privately in pairs violated the state’s public meetings laws. That’s also the allegation that sits at the heart of a newly-filed lawsuit from the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG).

“The lawsuit argues that in its final meeting on Nov. 15 the Commission engaged in secret negotiations to draft and come to agreement about proposed legislative and congressional district maps,” a press release from the WCOG reads. “The commissioners’ private actions and their inaction publicly violates the (Open Public Meetings Act) and should be voided.”

The commission has defended its private meetings over the fact that they met in two-person dyads, therefore not comprising a quorum of at least three members. Even so, some have argued that they violated the spirit of the law.

The WCOG notes that it is not commenting on “the merits of the Commission’s desired redistricting decisions,” instead focusing its lawsuit on a process it claims was in violation of public meeting rules.

“Our concern is that the commissioners convened a regular business meeting then conducted business and took action in private, not on the public record,” WCOG President Mike Fancher said. “Our purpose is to ensure public participation and transparency, not redistricting or any redistricting outcome.”

The lawsuit seeks to void the maps agreed to by the commission, while fining the four voting members of the WSRC $500 each.

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Lawsuit alleges state redistricting group’s ‘secret negotiations’ defied public meeting laws