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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Pacific NW

Commission would make Spokane legislative districts more partisan

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 20, 2021

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

For more than half a century, Spokane’s 6th Legislative District was the region’s most reliably Republican. That began to change in the late 1990s and by 2010 two of the three legislators the district sent to Olympia were Democrats.

For the past decade, the district – which covers parts of south and northwest Spokane city as well as nearby suburbs and parts of the West Plains – has elected Republican legislators, though often in close contests that remained in doubt for days after the election.

If the state Redistricting Commission’s proposed redrawing of legislative lines is adopted, the 6th would again become reliably Republican, and close contests would be unlikely without a major change in the political leanings of the voters it covers. Spokane wouldn’t have anything close to a swing district.

Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District would get more Democratic under the proposed boundaries and Spokane Valley’s 4th District would get slightly less Republican, while remaining a definite GOP stronghold.

The four-member commission sent its proposals to the state Supreme Court last week after missing its deadline to complete the once in a decade task of redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries. Late last week, the court ordered the panel’s nonvoting chairwoman to file a sworn statement by Monday to clarify what happened before and after the panel’s missed midnight deadline.

The court isn’t bound by the commission’s decision. It could completely redraw the lines, follow the commissioners’ recommendation to stick with their proposal, or keep some lines and change others. The justices have until April to decide.

But if the court adopts something close to the redistricting commission’s proposal, the 6th District will no longer have voters from Spokane’s South Hill. It would continue to cover much of the West Plains, parts of Hillyard and Indian Trail, and take in the growing suburban and exurban areas of northwest Spokane County. It would become solidly and predictably Republican.

Under the redistricting commission’s proposal, Spokane County would continue to have three districts within its boundaries and two which Spokane shares with other counties to the north or south.

The 3rd District would remain completely within the city of Spokane and strongly Democratic as it has for much of the past 80 years based on the average vote margins within the precincts that would be contained in the new boundaries. The computer analysis indicates the 3rd would become more Democratic based on the average vote totals in the precincts moved into or out of the proposed new boundaries.

The 4th District, which covers much of the Spokane Valley and hasn’t sent a Democrat to Olympia in decades, would remain the strongest Republican district in the county, although the net effect of the new boundaries would be to move some Republican precincts into the 9th or 6th districts.

The 6th District currently leans Republican, according to the computer analysis. But under the Redistricting Commission’s proposal, it would be roughly five times more Republican based on the net effect of precincts added or left out of its new boundaries.

In 2020, Republican candidates had an average margin of 1,880 votes over Democrats when the results for president, governor, Congress, secretary of state, insurance commissioner and the closest county commissioner race were analyzed in each of the county’s 362 precincts. Under the new lines proposed by the commission , the average margin of Republican candidates over Democratic candidates would be 10,699 votes.

By comparison, Democratic candidates in the 3rd District had an average margin of 9,664 votes over Republicans in last year’s general election; if the new boundaries had been in place, the average margin would have been 12,684 votes in favor of Democrats.

Similarly, Republican candidates in the 4th District had the highest margins in the county, an average of 15,157 votes for the six races. If the proposed commission boundaries were in place, that average would have dropped slightly, to a margin of 13,820 over Democrats.

Under the commission’s proposal, less of the 7th District, which covers the northern tier of Washington counties from the Idaho border to the Cascades, would be in Spokane County. Many of the current 7th District precincts would be shifted to the 4th and 6th Districts. All of the current 7th District precincts in Spokane are heavily Republican, with an average margin of 11,454 votes for those six candidates in last year’s general election. Under the commission’s proposed boundaries, that margin would drop to an average 2,984 votes, but that shift isn’t likely to affect legislative races in the heavily Republican rural district.

The 9th District, which extends to the Oregon border, is also reliably Republican and would likely get more so under the commission’s proposal. GOP candidates had an average margin of 2,843 votes over Democrats in Spokane’s 9th District precincts in last year’s general election. Under the commission’s proposal, that margin would grow to an average of 6,744 votes.

Each election year and each race within an election year are subject to many factors, so past results don’t determine future outcomes. But based on the computer analysis from the 2020 general election, the lines the commission proposed would give Spokane four legislative districts that could be reliably Republican for the next decade, and one that is solidly Democratic.

One outcome of the more heavily partisan districts might make primaries even more important. Because Washington elects its candidates in a top-two primary system, they could result in more cases of two candidates from the same party advancing to the general in those heavily partisan districts.

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