Every 10 years, Washington adjusts the boundaries of its congressional and legislative districts to account for changes in population.
In most decades since statehood, that has meant creating a new congressional district because Washington grew faster than most other states. In 2011, the state went from nine to 10 congressional seats.
The state has had 49 legislative districts since 1933, so with each U.S. census, the number of residents a legislator represents has grown. Because the population grows at different rates across the state, one or two of those districts is usually moved to faster-growing Western Washington from Eastern Washington.
Under a constitutional amendment approved in 1983, the boundary lines are drawn by a bipartisan commission. After the data from the latest census is released, one member each is appointed by the Republican and Democratic legislative leaders: the House speaker, the House minority leader, the Senate majority leader and the Senate minority leader. The commissioners can’t be elected officials or political party officials. Those four commissioners select a nonvoting chair to run the meetings and oversee the process.
The commission officially starts in January of the year after the census, so the panel will begin work in January 2021 and hold hearings around the state. It accepts suggestions for new boundary lines, but also has staff to analyze the census data and voting patterns.
The final plans must be approved by at least three of the four commissioners, and sent to the Legislature by Nov. 15 of that year. The Legislature has 30 days at the start of the next year’s session to make changes, and any changes must pass with two-thirds majorities.
If the final plan can’t get at least three votes on the commission, the state Supreme Court has until April 30 to develop a plan. The new district lines will be in place for the 2022 elections.
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