State Redistricting Saga Defaults to Supreme Court

UPDATE: 12/07/21: After reviewing documents from the state’s Redistricting Commission, the WA Supreme Court accepted its work, even though parts of it weren’t actually finished on time. That means the commissioners’ agreed-upon redistricting maps (which the commission released a day after the Nov. 15 deadline) will now go to the Legislature for final approval.

The Legislature can make only small changes to the maps, meaning the commission’s agreed-upon maps will largely remain as they are.

Original Article: 11/30/21: As Oliver Hardy often said to Stan Laurel, “Well, that’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” He could have been describing the current state of redistricting in Washington State – although this time the hapless Stanley had nothing to do with it.

It has been quite a drama, and although Bainbridge may have dodged the bullet, the final decision may now be made by the State Supreme Court by April 30, 2022.

What is the state’s process for redistricting?

We’ve covered the basics in a previous article, but in brief, the Republican and Democratic caucuses of both the State Senate and House each appoint a member to the four-person Washington State Redistricting Commission and those members must come to a consensus on any changes to the existing boundaries.



How does it affect Bainbridge Island?

The first drafts of the two Republican members removed Bainbridge Island from the 23rd District although they disagreed on which Seattle district it should be assigned to.

This is not the first time that Republicans have tried to wrest Bainbridge from the 23rd. An attempt was made in 2001 after the 2000 census. That effort was defeated with the help of then 23rd District Senator Betty Sheldon.


But the 2021 first drafts were called into question, not only because of Bainbridge, but for violating the federal Voting Rights Act as neither side of the aisle had proposed creating a district of majority Latino voters in the Yakima Valley.


Bremerton – Split in Two is Better Than Three?

The new map finalized on November 16 responds to input the from Bremerton population stating that they want all the city to be in one district – but it doesn’t go quite all the way. Now the city is to be part of two districts instead of three.


What went wrong?

The commissioners cite technical issues and the slowness of the Census Bureau to release the 2020 data as causes of the missed deadline. But since the first draft maps were released in late September this year, the commission still had a month and a half until November 15 to hash out the details.


Those late maps submitted to the Supreme Court – are they even legal?

The commission’s process is declared by law to be open and transparent and provide plenty of public input, but the final meeting of this commission had completely private sessions and deliberations. Also the maps submitted after the deadline were supposed to be made fully public before they were handed to the state. Thus the legality of the outcome could be challenged according to both state and federal law. But at this point things are in the hands of the State Supreme Court which is not necessarily obliged to accept their recommendations.

Naturally this state of affairs has drawn vociferous criticism.

From the Kitsap Sun, 11/16/2021:

“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,” said Yakima City Council member Dulce Gutierrez in a statement from the group.

“If a local government did anything like this the Legislature would spend months scolding every city and county across the state for months. This is a complete joke,” said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young in a tweet.


How do other states handle this process?

From the Kitsap Sun, 11-29-2021

“Washington’s bipartisan commission has long been regarded as one of the country’s better redistricting processes — more fair than leaving political district decisions to the state Legislature, where the party in control can skew maps in its favor.”

“Alison McCaffree, redistricting chair with the League of Women Voters of Washington, said in an ideal world, the commission should be restructured to remove some of the politics from the process….She said the independent citizen commissions in Michigan and California ‘are the most advanced we’ve seen’ in terms of having truly independent redistricting processes. Michigan’s 13-member citizen commission is made up of four registered voters who identify as Democrats, four voters who identify as Republicans, and five unaffiliated voters. California’s citizen commission similarly includes five Republicans, five Democrats and four politically unaffiliated members.”


How reliable is the 2020 Census?

The new redistricting outcome is supposed to reflect changes in the population since the previous census which was in 2010. However, the Trump administration’s handling of the entire 2020 census process has been widely condemned for attempting to disenfranchise minority populations. If this is true, then the Supreme Court will be tasked with making decisions based on data that is seriously flawed in the first place.





Update: WA Supreme Court Declines To Get Involved