OLYMPIA – With misgivings about the way some districts have been redrawn and disagreement over whether Washington has the best system in the country to do that, the Senate gave final approval Tuesday to minor changes to congressional and legislative boundaries required by the state’s growing population.
Lawmakers made what were described as “minor, technical changes” to the Washington Redistricting Commission’s plan, and the final proposal received the necessary two-thirds approval. But along with bipartisan support, it generated bipartisan opposition.
The commission, formed every 10 years to make adjustments prompted by the decennial census, had two Democrats and two Republicans, who eventually all voted for new boundaries for the state’s 10 congressional districts and 49 legislative districts. The districts will be in place for this year’s primary and general elections.
The commission was approved by voters after problems with redistricting in the 1970s and 1980s. Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, called it a true bipartisan process.
“We can, none of us, expect to get all the things we want,” Braun said, adding he wanted to thank the commissioners for their work.
“I don’t,” said Sen. Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, who said the commission should have kept Chelan and Douglas counties in the same districts. Residents of both counties urged commissioners not to split them between districts and the panel didn’t, he added, calling the extra public participation that some lawmakers lauded “a sham.”
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, said the unprecedented input the commission received from the public “did not translate … into the maps that were presented.” Along with that input, the Legislature is making 75 changes, which she said was an unprecedented number.
Those changes may not be enough to protect the state against a potential violation of the federal Voting Rights Act in the Yakima Valley to protect the interests of Hispanic voters, Saldaña said.
Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, voted for the changes but said the Senate’s approval wasn’t an endorsement of the maps.
“I continue to have significant concern that the Yakima Valley legislative district may not be compliant with the federal Voting Rights Act,” Billig said.
The redistricting law allows the Legislature to make minor alterations to the boundaries that don’t involve moving more than 2% of the population in an individual district.
Congressional districts will have about 770,500 people, and the changes the Legislature approved don’t involve more than 19 people. Legislative districts will have about 157,200 people, and the largest change involved 81 people. No changes were made to the plan for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, and no more than 10 people were added or subtracted from the Spokane-area legislative districts drawn by the commission.