State lawmakers to address concerns from chaotic, controversial redistricting process

Feb 4, 2022, 8:55 AM | Updated: 9:17 am
Washington state legislature, redistricting commission, legislative session, redistricting, tax rel...
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

A new bill in the state Legislature designed to address controversy stemming from a recent chaotic redistricting process is making headway.

New details reveal how technical glitches fueled missed redistricting deadline

The bill would add several new requirements for the Washington State Redistricting Commission (WSRC). That includes making its redistricting plan publicly available “at least 72 hours before voting to approve the plan,” mandating that any new amendments be publicly debated and voted on in open session, and adding a 24-hour window between the approval of any amendments and the final approval of the plan.

Those proposed measures are a direct response to a redistricting process late in 2021 that was riddled with technical glitches, confusion, and uncertainty, culminating in the WSRC missing the deadline to submit new maps for the first time since the commission was formed in 1991.

In a subsequent letter from the WSRC, commissioners explained how they “did not fully comprehend the time and complexity required to formalize the agreement,” eventually leading to the state Supreme Court allowing the late-arriving maps to move forward despite the missed deadline.

Several groups criticized that process in the days to follow, pointing to the closed-door nature of the commission’s proceedings where members had met privately in pairs prior to their final vote. That spawned two separate lawsuits, with one claiming that the WSRC engaged in “secret negotiations” that openly defied Washington’s public meeting laws.

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

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.

A second lawsuit claims that the late-arriving maps eventually approved by the state Supreme Court do not adequately represent Latino voters in the Yakima Valley and Pasco regions. In both lawsuits, plaintiffs ask that the maps approved by the WSRC be redrawn.

The bill moving through the state Legislature that would address some of those concerns was approved by the Senate on Wednesday, and will next go to the House. It would not apply retroactively, meaning that the new transparency requirements would not nullify or penalize the recent redistricting process.

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State lawmakers to address concerns from chaotic, controversial redistricting process