Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Jan. 29, 2020

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Redistricting activist John Milem dies at 76

He had a rare form of cancer that spread to his liver

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

Vancouver redistricting activist John Milem died Saturday evening. He was 76.

Up until a few months ago, Milem fought to make sure that voting district lines are drawn for the people, not for the politicians. He had filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to overturn Washington’s newly drawn voter boundaries, but he withdrew his lawsuit in late October after learning he had only a few months to live.

Milem died in his Vancouver home shortly after 8 p.m. The primary cause of death was liver cancer, which developed after spreading from a rare form of cancer located in his eye. He was diagnosed with that disease, ocular melanoma, four years ago.

There will be no services, according to an announcement sent out by his family. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to any charity.

“His remains have tentatively been accepted by the Oregon Health & Science University’s Body Donation Program,” Milem’s family writes. “After John’s time at OHSU is finished, he will be cremated and his final resting places will likely be portions of the Wonderland Trail of Mount Rainier and Mt. View Cemetery in Centralia.”

Milem, a former lawyer and businessman, said in October that he became intrigued by political affairs and voter redistricting as a young adult in the early 1950s. Learning about redistricting laws and keeping tabs on redistricting reform across the nation became a hobby.

Over the years, powerful people called upon Milem’s redistricting expertise. In the early 1960s, Milem prepared bills that were introduced in the Legislature by Republican Slade Gorton, who later became a U.S. senator.

Every 10 years, voter district lines in the state are redrawn based on new population information revealed through the Census. The Washington State Redistricting Commission finalized the latest boundaries last January based on the 2010 Census.

On a volunteer basis, Milem attended nearly all of the commission’s 18 public forums around the state and the commission’s other regular and special meetings in Olympia. Following the conclusion of its work, the commission honored Milem by passing a resolution recognizing him as the equivalent of the redistricting volunteer of the year.

Milem was a native of the Pacific Northwest. He moved away for about four decades and returned to the area 10 years ago.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or