The state’s high court delivered some bad news on Wednesday to Vancouver’s John Milem, who is challenging the way state leaders redrew Washington’s voting district lines.
Milem’s petition asking the state Supreme Court to revoke the new redistricting plan is still in play, but his petition won’t affect this year’s primary or general elections, the court unanimously decided.
After Milem filed his petition in February, the state’s attorney general stepped in, asking the Supreme Court to at least allow the new voter boundaries to apply this year.
“I was pretty disappointed, although I can’t say I was exactly surprised,” Milem said by phone Thursday. “The court has been all about following the attorney general’s suggestions about how to handle this case.”
Members of the court made their decision based on “approaching deadlines for the 2012 elections and the need for adequate time to perfect the case and consider briefs and arguments of the parties,” according to the Supreme Court order filed Wednesday.
Milem’s main complaint is that the state’s redistricting commission failed to redraw the lines in a way outlined by state law and the Washington Constitution. The current redistricting plan limits political competition and doesn’t best represent the communities of Washington, according to Milem’s petition.
Legislative and congressional districts are adjusted once a decade after Census numbers are released. By law, all legislative and congressional districts around the state must be home to roughly the same number of residents. The constitution gives the court the power to intervene in redistricting.
The state’s redistricting plan was finalized Jan. 1 and is based on 2010 Census numbers.
However, “this is not a plan within the meaning of the law,” Milem said.
Redistricting is supposed to avoid splitting cities and counties, Milem says, but political interests, such as the desire to keep an incumbent in office or wanting to keep party control in a district, prevented that from happening.
Opponents of Milem’s petition say it is impractical to change the plan in time for the 2012 elections because the new boundaries are already being used to plan the elections, and no simple alternative to the plan exists. The state’s population has grown too large for the state to use the old district boundaries and the state’s redistricting commission already rejected a plan offered by Milem, according to a brief filed by Attorney General Rob McKenna and others from his office.
Milem isn’t the only citizen advocate speaking out against a state’s redistricting plan. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided that its state redistricting map was unconstitutional after Pennsylvania piano teacher Amanda Holt crunched the Census numbers herself and brought them to court.
In Kentucky, a redistricting case is being fast-tracked through the state’s Supreme Court. In Missouri, the state’s high court heard arguments in a redistricting case late last month.
“Based on the expedited schedule followed in other states to deal with challenges such as mine, it is clear that this matter could have already been resolved,” Milem said in a statement released Wednesday. “Responsibility belongs to the commission for failing to comply with governing law and to the Attorney General for encouraging the Court to disregard its responsibilities when a redistricting plan is challenged.”
In January, the Washington State Redistricting Commission passed a resolution recognizing Milem as the equivalent of the redistricting volunteer of the year. Without pay or position, the 75-year-old resident of Vancouver’s Fircrest neighborhood attended nearly all of the commission’s 18 public forums around the state and the commission’s other regular and special meetings in Olympia.
Milem is retired and previously worked as a lawyer and a businessman.
“I’m still optimistic that at the end of the day, I’ll be heard,” Milem said Thursday, adding that he simply wants to improve the system for ordinary people. “There’s nothing for me to gain out of this personally. I’m too old to make anything in the future out of this.”
Under the new redistricting plan, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, is in the 20th legislative district rather than the 18th. Meanwhile, the 3rd Congressional district belonging to U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has acquired more conservative communities east of the Cascades while losing the more liberal Olympia area.
Washington’s primary elections take place Aug. 7 and the general election is Nov. 6. The candidate prefiling period starts May 14.