Republicans have had a lock on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners, as well as most county elective offices, for the last decade. A new law expanding the board could give Democrats at least one key to that lock.
The GOP has maintained that control because, for the last decade, a majority of county voters tended to vote Republican, even though city of Spokane voters often supported Democrats in some local, state and national races.
The new system for electing county commissioners – with five districts rather than three and candidates elected solely within the district rather than a countywide general election – is likely to break the GOP lock on the board.
But the three latest proposals for dividing Spokane County into five county commissioner districts represent very different approaches to grouping voters to select those board members.
One proposal, known as Scenario B, would have created three moderate Democratic districts and two strong Republican districts, according a computer analysis conducted by The Spokesman-Review of the maps released late last month by the Spokane County Redistricting Commission. That scenario, proposed by Democratic appointee Natasha Hill, a Spokane attorney, was ruled out by the committee last week.
Another, Scenario C, would create two strong Republican districts, one moderate Republican district, one strong Democratic district and one moderate Democratic district. The proposal is from Brian McClatchey, a Democratic appointee who is the director policy and government relations for the Spokane City Council.
The third, Scenario D, would create one strong Democratic district, three strong Republican districts and one swing district that leaned slightly Republican in the 2020 general election. The concept was proposed by former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt, a Republican appointee.
Earlier in September, committee members agreed to discard a proposal from Robin Ball, former Spokane County Republican chairwoman.
To estimate the partisan strength of the proposed districts in the three proposals, the newspaper calculated an average partisan split of each of the county’s 362 precincts using the results of six races in the 2020 election:
- The presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Biden won statewide, but Trump won Spokane County by 12,811 votes.
- The gubernatorial race between Democratic incumbent Jay Inslee and Republican Loren Culp. Inslee won statewide, but Culp won Spokane County by 29,404 votes.
- The 5th Congressional District race between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democrat Dave Wilson. McMorris Rodgers was re-elected and won Spokane County by 54,026 votes.
- The Secretary of State race between incumbent Kim Wyman and Democrat Gael Tarleton. Wyman was re-elected and won Spokane County by 59,115 votes.
- The Insurance Commissioner race between incumbent Mike Kreidler and Republican challenger Chirayu Patel. Kreidler was re-elected and was the only Democratic statewide candidate to win Spokane County, with a margin of 26,033 votes.
- The closest of the two county commissioner races, between incumbent Josh Kerns and Democrat Ted Cummings. Kerns was re-elected with a winning margin of 40,160 votes.
- The average margin countywide was about 16% weighted in favor of Republican candidates. The total margins for each precinct were averaged also, producing the partisan split displayed in the maps.
We then used sophisticated computer mapping software that joined each redistricting proposal with the Spokane County precinct map to extract the total average vote in each of the proposed commissioner districts.
The redistricting commissioners worked with 2020 Census data, which is reported in census blocks, not precincts, because the districts must be based on population, not voter registration or turnout.
In creating their scenarios, some precincts were split between two or three commissioner districts. In those cases, the newspaper divided the average vote margins in half or thirds before adding to the district totals.
The resulting maps show very different approaches to dividing Spokane County into five equal parts and letting only voters within those borders elect their county commissioner for the first time in its history.
At least one commissioner district is likely to be strongly Democratic, while two or three could be strongly Republican. Partisan control of the board of commissioners for the next decade could depend on how the city of Spokane precincts are divided among the districts.