OLYMPIA – It’s almost time for Washington to get new legislative and congressional maps.
Three of the four state redistricting commissioners must approve new maps by Monday or the job will go to the state Supreme Court. The approved maps for the 10 U.S. House districts and 49 state legislative districts will be in place for a decade.
While commissioners are confident they can reach a deal in time, negotiations are still ongoing, and what those final maps will look like remains unknown.
“I’m hopeful we can reach a deal, but I can’t guarantee it,” said Commissioner Paul Graves. “I’m an optimist, and I’m optimistic we’ll have a deal.”
Part of the challenge this year in redrawing lines is that census data was released later than normal because of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortening the timeline for the commission to agree on final maps.
Commissioner April Sims, a Democratic appointee, said the commissioners are “actively” working toward an agreement. Right now, they are negotiating changes and trying to ensure each commissioner’s priorities are met.
“There’s always been a hard deadline,” Sims said. “Commissions have always met their deadline, and I can’t imagine that our commission won’t.”
Republican-appointed Commissioner Joe Fain said he was more confident than not that the commission would reach an agreement by Monday.
“It seems that while there is still much distance between us, there is still a desire to put work to a close,” he said.
Each commissioner came to the discussions with their own priorities. Sims prioritizes creating maps that have fair, equitable representation with conversations from those who have historically been left out. Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, the other Democratic appointee, prioritized keeping communities of interest together.
Both Graves and Fain prioritized more competitive districts to encourage electoral participation. Not having a competitive map would be “a real slap in the face to voters,” Fain said.
One of the biggest issues still being determined is how to create a majority-Latino district in Yakima. After an analysis released last month by Matt Barreto, faculty director at the UCLA Voting Rights Project, commissioners Sims and Walkinshaw proposed redrawing the 14th Legislative District centered on the Yakima area and including the Yakama Nation Reservation.
Barreto told Crosscut that the Yakima Valley has a large Latino population that historically votes for different candidates than white voters.
Fain said he did not think it would be productive to release another map to fix the issue in Yakima, adding he thinks there is legal risk in both creating a Latino-majority congressional district and not creating one.
He said he is trying to remain “open” to proposals from the Democratic commissioners.
Sims said how to handle that district is “part of an ongoing conversation.”
Another issue is how to accommodate for the large populations on west of the Cascades versus smaller populations on the East Side. A few districts on the East Side will have to take on about 60,000 people from the West Side, meaning a few districts will need to span the Cascades, Graves said.
“Exactly how you do that is a challenge,” Graves said.
Sims said there are only a few places where you can pull from, such as along U.S. Highway 2 or Interstate 90.
Over the past few months, each commissioner has released their own maps, taken public comment, and consulted with tribal governments and local communities. Now, the negotiating is done behind closed doors, although nothing can officially be decided on unless it is in a public meeting.
“This is probably the most frustrating part for the public because negotiations are ongoing,” Sims said. “Nothing’s agreed to until everything’s agreed to.”
The commission will hold a business meeting at 7 p.m. Monday to vote on the final maps. After final maps re agreed upon, it will go to the Legislature for approval.
What proposed maps do for Eastern WashingtonIn Eastern Washington, most of the legislative maps look similar.
Graves said Spokane County is part of an interesting phenomenon happening in cities across the state. The downtown city grew more slowly while the surrounding suburbs grew more quickly. To account for that, the commissioners had to expand the 3rd Legislative District slightly, so it can meet the population requirement.
Graves did this by expanding the third to include the South Hill.
“It was a natural way to do it,” he said.
Most of the proposed big changes in Eastern Washington come in the 6th and 9th districts .
In her most recent map proposal, Sims expands the 6th District west just into Grant County. Doing so was part of what she called “a water balloon effect.” When she changed her map to include the majority-Latino district in central Washington, there was a significant effect on districts in Eastern Washington. To accommodate that, the 6th District expands slightly.
“It’s surprising how a change in Yakima can change a district in Spokane,” she said.
Fain’s legislative proposal also extends the 6th District west to include Lincoln County. His reasoning was to make the district more competitive.
Graves’s map removes the 9th District from Spokane County. He said he did this so the 9th District was not representing as many different communities and counties.
In his newest map with a majority-Latino district, Walkinshaw moves the 16th District where the 9th currently is. The 6th then moves into Adams and Franklin counties.
The commissioners’ proposed congressional maps don’t change much in Eastern Washington.
Only Walkinshaw’s would drastically change the 4th and 5th congressional districts. His proposal gives the 4th district Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln and Klickitat counties.
But all of the proposed maps could change based on negotiations, and the public won’t find out the final maps until Monday, if the commissioners are able to reach a deal.