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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington Supreme Court declines to redraw redistricting maps

Dec. 3, 2021 Updated Sat., Dec. 4, 2021 at 12:14 a.m.

OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court on Friday accepted the legislative and congressional maps drawn by the state redistricting commission, declining to take on the role to redraw the maps themselves.

After a chaotic final meeting that took place mostly behind closed doors, the redistricting commission admitted it failed to meet the statutory deadline to redraw maps, having voted on sending the final maps to the Legislature seconds after midnight Nov. 16.

Because the commission did not meet the deadline, the job of redrawing the legislative and congressional district maps that will be in place for the next 10 years went to the Supreme Court.

However, in an order signed by all nine justices Friday, the court said the commission “substantially complied” with its statutory deadline by voting on the maps just before midnight. The votes taken after midnight were on the formal resolution and letters to transmit the maps to the Legislature, according to chair Sarah Augustine. The letter and resolution were sent to the Senate and the House of Representatives at 12:13 a.m.

“This is not a situation in which the Supreme Court must step in because the Commission has failed to agree on a plan it believes complies with state and federal requirements,” the order reads. “The court concludes that the primary purpose of achieving a timely redistricting plan would be impeded, not advanced, by rejecting the Commission’s completed work.”

According to Augustine, prior to the final meeting, the only legislative districts in dispute were districts 28, 44 and 47. All of those were resolved before midnight, Augustine wrote in a declaration to the court last week.

Although final maps were not drawn at the time of the votes, commissioners said they voted on “a verbal agreement” on what the final maps would look like. Final maps were not done at that point, but the commissioners agreed on “a framework that you could immediately translate into the maps themselves,” Republican appointee Paul Graves told reporters last month.

Maps were then released to the public late the following evening. The final legislative maps could make Spokane County more partisan, making the 6th and 4th Districts more Republican and the 3rd District more Democrat. The Eastern Washington congressional districts remain similar to current districts.

The Court gave authority back to the commission to complete “any remaining tasks necessary” to complete its work.

“The Commission appreciates the Supreme Court’s quick decision to allow the redistricting process to continue forward per the RCW,” spokesperson Jamie Nixon wrote in an email. “The Commission will carefully review the decision and update the public on next steps soon.”

The Legislature must still give final approval of the maps before they can go into effect. According to the Court, the Legislature has until 30 days after the start of the session to revise the maps as they see fit. Changes must be approved by two-thirds of each chamber.

The Court did not look at the maps’ compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements, only that they were voted on in time, according to the order. There was some concern among commissioners and lawmakers that the final maps don’t comply with the Voting Rights Act because there is not a majority Latino district in Yakima.

In an FAQ provided by the Court, it acknowledged there could be lawsuits over the maps, but it was making “no judgments about those cases at this time.”

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he had hoped the court would take a closer look at some aspects of the maps that may not comply with state and federal laws, such as the Yakima Valley district.

“Even if we are not in full agreement, we respect the Court’s authority and will move forward accordingly,” Billig said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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