Washington and Idaho voters didn’t have a big stake in Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that refused to overturn redistricting plans that critics say are unfairly drawn.
Citizens of both states have taken the power to draw congressional and legislative districts away from each Legislature and put it in the hands of bipartisan commissions. They don’t prevent gerrymandering, but make it more difficult with evenly stacked boards and public meetings.
The five-member Washington State Redistricting Commission is created every 10 years to redraw those lines after each decennial census. Each of the four voting members is appointed by a top legislator. The House speaker and House minority leader each name one member, as do the Senate majority and minority leaders. That means the commission starts with two Democrats and two Republicans, regardless of which party controls the legislative chambers.
Those four members select a commission chairman, who runs the meeting and oversees the process, but doesn’t vote on the plans. The commission holds public hearings around the state where citizens can suggest local concerns or submit their own maps. The final boundaries must be approved by at least three of the four members.
The Idaho Citizens Commission for Reapportionment is similar although it has six members. The majority and minority party leaders of the Senate and House each get an appointment to the commission, as well as the Republican and Democratic state party chairs. The commissioners can’t have been state or county elected officials in the last two years. At least four of the six members must approve the new district boundaries.
Earlier this year, legislative Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment to add a seventh member to the commission who would be appointed by statewide elected officials, and allow the new boundary plans to be approved by a simple majority. Democrats protested that because statewide elected officials are usually Republicans, who would likely ensure the commission always had a GOP majority and lead to gerrymandering. The proposal was eventually dropped.
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