The Spokane County Commissioners have chosen retired Providence Health Care executive Elaine Couture to chair the county’s five-member redistricting committee.
Couture will serve as a leader and mediator for the nonpartisan committee, which is charged with redrawing voting district boundaries as Spokane County transitions from three to five county commissioners in 2022.
Spokane County is currently split into three voting districts for commission elections – voters cast a ballot in one commissioner race in the primary, but then cast a vote in all three commissioner races in the general election.
But due to a 2018 state law, which Spokane County commissioners fought against, the county has to move from three to five equally-populated districts. And under the new rules, voters will cast a ballot for one, district-specific representative in the general election, rather than casting a vote for a candidate in all five districts.
The new district boundary lines will have political ramifications for county government.
It may be possible to draw the districts and maintain an all-Republican commission. Or the lines could be drawn in a way that brings a Democrat for the first time in more than a decade.
The hottest debate will likely be where to draw the lines in Spokane, so the bipartisan redistricting committee’s discussions could be contentious.
One of the committee’s first assignments – to pick a nonvoting chair for itself – ended in deadlock April 15 after the Republican and Democrat committee members failed to agree on a nominee.
Republican members Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball nominated Bill Hyslop, who served as a U.S. attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump.
Democrat committee members Brian McClatchey and Natasha Hill voted against Hyslop and countered with KSPS General Manager Gary Stokes, then Spokane Local Government and Cultural Affairs Director Gloria Ochoa – McDevitt and Ball voted against both of those nominees.
That partisan stalemate pushed the chair selection to the county commission. The commissioners voted unanimously for Couture.
Now that the committee has Couture as chair, it will begin holding public meetings and discussomg how to split the county.
If the committee can’t agree on the new lines, the decision will be passed on to a state committee.
“I hope to God it is resolved on the local level,” County Commissioner Al French said Monday. “I have this nagging feeling in my stomach that it was designed to go to the state from the very beginning. I hope I’m wrong.”
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