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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Race to the finished lines: Redistricting committee close to drawing new commissioner maps

Spokane County Commissioner districts drawn after the 2010 census.  (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Commissioner districts drawn after the 2010 census. (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

The committee tasked with redrawing Spokane County’s commissioner districts so the county can transition from three to five commissioners hasn’t done any real line drawing this year.

For months, the redistricting committee has mainly been working on tasks far blander, such as devising a community engagement plan and picking a consultant to help the committee members draw new boundaries.

Now, the committee is entering the home stretch of the redistricting process and its meetings are going to become a lot more interesting. Committee members are finally beginning to tinker with the mapping software they’ll use to divide Spokane County.

The committee members have until Aug. 24 to put together a draft redistricting plan. After that, the committee has to adopt a final plan by Oct. 23 to send to the Spokane County Auditor’s Office. The committee won’t have official 2020 U.S. Census numbers to work with until September, but committee members can use projected population statistics until then.

The committee is holding a public hearing on the redistricting process Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley. People interested in attending the hearing virtually can also find a Zoom link at redistrictspokaneco.com.

Spokane County has three county commissioners – today they’re Josh Kerns, Al French and Mary Kuney. Those commissioners run in a primary election within their respective districts, then appear on the county-wide ballot in the general election.

In 2018, the state Legislature passed the Responsible Representation Act, which effectively required Spokane County to switch from three to five commissioner districts. Voters will elect new commissioners in 2022 who will assume office in 2023. Under the new system, each district will select its own commissioner – there won’t be a county-wide general election.

It’s the redistricting committee’s job to figure out where the new commissioner districts should be. The committee members are bound by law to ensure that the five districts are nearly equal in population, are compact – aren’t serpentine or bizarrely shaped – and don’t favor any racial group or political party.

The committee has four voting members. Natasha Hill and Brian McClatchey were appointed by the area’s three Democrat legislators while Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball were appointed by the area’s House Republicans.

Elaine Couture, the nonvoting chair of the redistricting committee, was appointed by the county commissioners in April after the committee members couldn’t agree on a chair.

In recent meetings, committee members have expressed concern about a lack of community feedback on how to draw the new district lines. Feedback is especially critical for the committee to identify communities of interest.

There’s no succinct definition of communities of interest, but they include neighborhoods, school districts and areas with distinct cultural or racial identities. The committee needs to figure out where the communities of interest are in order to avoid drawing lines that chop them into pieces.

People can comment on the redistricting process at committee meetings, by email at info@redistrictspokaneco.com or by mail: P.O. Box 31508 Spokane, WA 99223.

If the four voting committee members can’t agree on how to draw the new lines, the decision will move on to a state-level redistricting committee.

That outcome has to be avoided, Couture said, because the state-level committee members won’t have the detailed knowledge of Spokane County that’s required to draw good districts.

Couture said she expects McDevitt, Ball, Hill and McClatchey will be willing to work together in good faith to ensure the line-drawing doesn’t go on to the state.

“It’s not like we’re going to fight this out between Democrats and Republicans,” Couture said. “It’s against the law.”

Even after Thursday’s public hearing, the redistricting committee will continue to hold regular meetings, public hearings and information session:

  • Information session Sept. 3, 5:30 p.m. at the Deer Park Public Library.
  • Public hearing Sept. 16 at 5:30 p.m., the Moran Prairie Public Library.
  • Information session Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m. at the Cheney Public Library.
  • Public hearing Oct. 7, 5:30 p.m. at the Kalispel Ballroom at Northern Quest Resort and Casino.
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