Washington state’s redistricting process — redrawing legislative and Congressional district boundaries every 10 years based on Census data — is imperfect, but we can say one thing with certainty: It won’t be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 9. That’s the fate of the Texas redistricting process, traditionally one of the most bitterly partisan and thoroughly litigated redistricting systems in the country.
Thankfully, in our state there’s a much better way. It’s certainly not nonpartisan. But the system is reliable in a couple of ways. First, it’s solidly bipartisan, with two members of each party serving on the Redistricting Commission led by a nonvoting, nonpartisan chair. Second, the process that Washington voters created in 1983 is virtually immune to political shenanigans by legislators when they convene this month. They can make changes in the plan affecting no more than 2 percent of the population of any district, and any changes require a two-thirds approval in each legislative chamber. As if that challenge is not rigorous enough, lawmakers have just 30 days to review the new plan that was unanimously adopted by the commission late Sunday night.
So, even though they pushed the process to within a couple hours of the deadline, and even though minor complaints remain scattered around the state, the commission members are praised for their work. So, too, are county auditors around the state who provided statistical and analytical details that were vital in the complicated process.
Here in Clark County, the biggest change was announced last week when the 3rd Congressional District (served by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas) was condensed to exclude Olympia, which became the center of the state’s new 10th district. At the legislative level, relatively minor changes were made in boundaries of the 17th, 18th and 49th districts. A small portion of the 14th district will spread into rural east Clark County, and an even smaller slice of the 20th will reach into rural north Clark County.
Again, the process is far from nonpartisan, but here’s how bipartisan it became this year: The state has gone from a five-four Democratic edge in Congressional districts to a five-four Democratic edge with one wide-open swing district (the reconfigured 1st near Seattle). That’s according to The Seattle Times, which called the commission’s work “predictable and unimaginative, but ultimately also even-handed.” And in the world of politics, “even-handed” is not a term you hear very often.
A couple of firsts occurred in this year’s iteration of the decennial process. The 9th Congressional District (parts of Southeast Seattle, Beacon Hill, Mercer Island, Bellevue, south King County and northeast Tacoma) will become a “majority-minority district” as more than half of constituents belong to minority racial or ethnic groups. And at the state level, four majority-minority legislative districts are created: the 15th in Yakima County and the 11th, 33rd and 37th in King County. Compare all of that with the turmoil in Texas, where the plan shows no gain in minority districts even though 85 percent of population growth in the past decade has been among minority groups.
In Washington state, Celestino Gallegos of the Latino Community Fund, was quoted on Monday by the group United for Fair Representation: “Thanks to the commission for taking into account the changing demographics of the state, and for offering people of color in Washington the opportunity for meaningful participation in the democratic process.”
Yes, it’s all been very imperfect, but that’s a good description of the democratic process. No one is ever totally happy, but collectively, we’ve all been treated fairly. Let us be thankful for an equitable system that is the envy of several other states.