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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Mary Coltrane: Washington has new Legislative Maps - again. Is it time for a new process?

Mary Coltrane

By Mary Coltrane

Voting districts are important – where those lines are drawn affects your power as a voter. New lines need to be drawn following every Census to account for population changes throughout the decade. This reapportionment and redistricting follow the ideal of “one person, one vote” – every person should have the same amount of representation. In Washington state, legislative and congressional maps are redrawn by the Washington State Redistricting Commission.

New districts were drawn for the 2022 elections – and now in 2024 almost 500,000 voters find themselves yet again in new districts. This second round of changes is the result of a lawsuit that successfully challenged the maps drawn by the 2021 Redistricting Commission as being in violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. The U.S. District Court ruled that LD 15 in Yakima was discriminatory toward Latino voters, forcing the redrawing of legislative districts in Central Washington.

The new map changes 13 legislative districts (2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14,15, 16, 17, 20, 31) – with the most significant changes to 14th and 15th. In Eastern Washington, the 9th Legislative District adds the town of Othello and removes people in rural Franklin Count. District16 is dramatically different: starting with Walla Walla County, it wraps to the north of the Tri-Cities and picks up rural Franklin County and Benton City. The Office of the Secretary of State has confirmed that these lines will displace five sitting legislators. A preliminary analysis by the League of Women Voters of Washington shows that nearly 500,000 voters are affected by the changes and over 220,000 will have changed twice in three years.

A better process would have created more representative maps in the first place and avoided this disruption to so many voters. The bottom line is this: an ineffective and unclear redistricting process resulted in unfair maps. It’s time for comprehensive reform.

The current Washington State Redistricting Commission is often described as independent. It is not. While commissioners are not elected officials and are not part of the Legislature, the commission has significant partisan influence. Commissioners are put in place by the two dominant parties, with work facilitated by a nonvoting chair. According to court testimony, commissioners worked in bipartisan pairs, ultimately voting on maps that they had not yet created, and the public had not seen in advance. There was no citizen involvement into these discussions or deliberations. Ultimately, commissioners were fined for violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and faced several lawsuits, including the Soto-Palmer v. Hobbs lawsuit ( that resulted in the new map.

The League of Women Voters of Washington has followed redistricting issues for many years. The current bipartisan structure was established by constitutional amendment in 1983. In 2017, LWVWA released a “Report on Redistricting,” concluding that there is a need to “move from the state’s bipartisan system to a more nearly nonpartisan, independent system.”

In June 2023, Washington League members passed a resolution supporting a redistricting reform campaign to restructure our state’s outdated redistricting commission by reforming both the structure and procedures to create a new type of redistricting commission. This People First Commission would expand representation beyond the current two-party structure. The commission would include ordinary citizens and mandate geographic representation from Eastern Washington that would provide for greater understanding of Eastern Washington communities and economy. District line drawing would take place in an open process, with clearly defined criteria that are ranked in importance. Citizen participation and access would exist at all levels and steps of the process. Implemented well, the process would use time and money wisely for a more effective commission. In the end, this type of commission would minimize partisan influences and emphasize a consensus around what’s best for local communities.

Recent research from the University of Southern California ( shows that truly independent citizen redistricting commissions have higher public trust and have resulted in legislatures that are more representative of the people in their state. This Fair Maps report concludes: “The result is a process that empowers communities and reduces the influence of political actors.”

Washington residents deserve a better process. The League of Women Voters supports major redistricting reform, and we invite all those interested in creating a new process to join us. See for more information. To connect with the local action team, contact Ann Murphy at

Mary Coltrane has been involved in grassroots political activity across the state for many years and is currently president of the League of Women Voters of Washington.