The special panel assigned to redraw Washington’s congressional and legislative districts will spend much of the summer listening to people around the state tell them where the lines should be.
For the first time, however, the Redistricting Commission and the public will get high-tech help in carving out a new congressional district and shrinking or enlarging the existing legislative districts.
Later this month the commission’s website will debut a special do-it-yourself map kit that gives the public easy access to where the state’s 6.7 million people are spread among nearly 7,000 voting precincts.
“We’re already starting to see maps,” said David Valiant, a member of the commission staff.
Redrawing the state’s political boundaries has come a long way from the days when the group charged with the task marked the lines on road maps picked up at a filling station. Slade Gorton, a commission member and former U.S. senator and state attorney general, said that’s where the commission got its base maps when he was involved in the process in the 1960s.
The commission, which started hearings last month in the South Puget Sound, will be in Pasco on Tuesday, Yakima on Wednesday and Wenatchee on Thursday, some of the areas that have seen the most rapid growth in the last decade. The commission will visit Spokane on July 14, at a time and place not yet determined.
A few paper maps are being presented at hearings, but the proposals are expected to increase when interested observers can go online after June 15 to digital maps that will allow them to move precincts or whole counties around with the click of a button.
One of the biggest challenges will be the placement of a new congressional district. A Seattle group, Fair Representation Washington, says the new district should be created in that city that has a majority of racial and ethnic minorities, creating the state’s only district where whites aren’t a majority.
John Milem, of Vancouver, who describes himself as “an advocate for redistricting in the public interest,” has attended several commission meetings and submitted proposals. He said the commission should adhere strictly to laws that say the fewest number of counties and cities should be split between districts. That could mean as few as three counties which are too big for a single congressional district – King, Pierce and Snohomish – would be split.
Students in a special class on redistricting and gerrymandering at Columbia University Law School used computers to redraw many of the states’ congressional boundaries. Matt Tynan, a second-year law student, took on the Washington map, placing the 10th Congressional District in Thurston County and parts of Pierce County that include Joint Base Lewis McChord.
That would split the current 3rd District, which has more liberal Olympia and Thurston County in its north and more conservative Vancouver and Clark County anchoring its south.
Tynan is a former Olympia resident who graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in political science. He said the other big challenge was figuring out which West Side congressional district should be stretched into Eastern Washington, which now has enough people for 2 ½ districts.
“It was a choice of whether to cross the Cascades at I-90, or the Columbia River valley,” Tynan said. He chose the river valley because it provides more continuity. He also tried to keep as many cities and counties as possible in a single district, and use as many of the existing lines as possible.
It was the most challenging of the four state maps he drew for the class.
“Washington’s a very diverse state,” he said. It’s a mix of urban and rural, forests and farmlands, peninsulas and islands. “The geography is tricky.”