Dual issues of having legislative districts with competitive elections and making them represent whole communities of interest dominated discussions during an event designed to let a five-member commission gain insight on where it will draw the next boundaries for both the Washington State Legislature and the state’s Congressional boundaries.
During a remote public hearing for constituents of the Third Congressional District, members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission heard from more than two dozen citizens of that district. Washington state law establishes an independent redistricting commission that looks at legislative and Congressional boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census, commission chair Sarah Augustine said at the start of the event.
Augustine said one of the commission’s missions calls for an “open, transparent and credible process.” This year’s redistricting procedure has been challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, as Census data the commission would receive by April 1 in a regular year isn’t expected to come in until late August.
Apportionment data was released, however, which shows which states would gain or lose seats in Congress. Though the state added approximately 1 million residents in 10 years, Washington’s number in the House of Representatives did not change, Augustine said. The state had a population of 7,705,281 as of April 1, 2020.
The goal of the commission is to distribute population “as equally as possible” among the Congressional and legislative districts, Augustine explained. For Congressional districts, that would include a population of about 770,000, and for legislative districts that is roughly 157,000 residents. Other goals include making districts that are “compact, contiguous and convenient” and ones that minimize district lines that cut through counties, municipalities or “communities of interest.”
The commission showed a map indicating the Third Congressional District needed slightly more residents in its boundaries to maintain a proportional population. That district contains all of the 49th, 17th and 18th Legislative Districts, and parts of the 2nd, 14th, 19th and 20th. Of those, the 2nd, 17th and 18th had more population than would be proportional, which means they would likely shrink, while others expanded.
Augustine used an analogy given by Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, stating the commission’s task is like solving a Rubik’s Cube.
Those who testified generally fell into two groups — those who wanted more competitive races and those who wished to see “communities of interest” located within one district. A number of individuals in the 49th Legislative District fell into the former group, which has been solidly Democrat-led for some time.
Kelli Fiskum said that of the 78 legislative district elections since the 49th was founded in the 1950s, only 12 were won by Republicans. The last time a Republican won was more than two decades ago.
Cynthia Gardner said only one district in the state had split Democratic and Republican members of the state House of Representatives, and only two have a Senate member not aligned with house colleagues. She said the one-sided nature led lawmakers to play only to their political bases and more extreme candidates on both sides of the aisle, as well as general citizen apathy.
“Sometimes the opposing party doesn’t put up a viable candidate, realizing the district is too packed for that person to win,” Gardner said.
Kathy McDonald, a member of the 49th district, said seeing a balance in the district would be wonderful.
“Many solid Republicans have looked at this seat, but without any path forward, have chosen not to run for office,” McDonald said.
She would like to see her district’s boundary move more to the north into the 18th, which has been more solidly Republican in recent years.
Constituents in the 18th district had their own concerns, with a number of them discussing its shape. The district sprawls across Clark County, incorporating parts of every municipality and completely surrounds the 17th and 49th districts. As one of the districts identified as requiring a downsize due to population growth, some who testified representing the boundaries of the district expressed concern they might split away from their communities of interest.
Catherine Morton Greenlee said while the 18th district is “overly large and touches every municipality in Clark County,” she wanted to keep Washougal in the 18th. Another testifier, John Anderson, noted Camas and Washougal share a fire department, port and chamber of commerce.
“The 18th (Legislative District) is neither compact nor convenient,” Judy Zeider said, adding one legislator received a speeding ticket while traveling from one town hall to the other because of the spread-out nature of the district. She noted that Battle Ground is split between the 17th and 18th districts, which also goes against keeping communities together.
Ellie Hutton said for the past 10 years she’s lived in the 18th district, but her neighbor is in the 14th. A number of testifiers at the hearing brought up how the 14th district includes some of Clark County and all of Skamania County, arguing they had more in common with Vancouver than they did with Yakima, where much of their state representation is located.
“Yakima is not even within the realm of what most folks in Clark County think of as their community of interest,” Hutton said. “Clark County is where I am involved and do my business.”
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