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March 30, 2023

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Proposed legislative maps call for big changes for Clark County

Redistricting commission missed deadline; task goes to state Supreme Court

By , Columbian staff writer
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Despite missing its Nov. 15 deadline, the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission released its final preferred versions of new congressional and legislative district maps late Tuesday.

The proposed maps, which call for major changes to legislative districts in Clark County, are not binding. Because the commission missed its deadline, the task of choosing the state’s electoral boundaries falls to the state Supreme Court, which has until April 30 to finish the job.

Under the commission’s preferred version, the 3rd Congressional District would no longer represent Klickitat County; that county would become part of the 4th Congressional District. The 3rd would then extend north slightly farther than currently into Thurston County.

The changes are more sweeping at the legislative level.

The 17th Legislative District, which currently covers an area east of Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 from the Columbia River to part of Battle Ground, would still include part of east Vancouver but then extend east to encompass all of Skamania County.

The 18th Legislative District — which currently sprawls from Camas and Washougal to Ridgefield, La Center and the northeast county — instead becomes a compact district picking up parts of the unincorporated urban area north of Vancouver reaching northeast to the Battle Ground area.

The 20th Legislative District extends south deeper into Clark County than previously, picking up La Center, Ridgefield, Yacolt and Amboy, as well as areas at the north end of the county.

The 49th Legislative District loses parts of Hazel Dell but gains Orchards and other areas east of Interstate 205.

‘A significant change’

State lawmakers have been waiting to see what changes are coming for their districts. If the commission’s maps are adopted by the Supreme Court, Clark County residents will see substantial changes.

“It’s a significant change for my district. It was becoming a more urban district, and now it becomes a more rural district,” said state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver. “It’s interesting that the 17th and 18th districts kind of switched roles.”

Harris, who represents the 17th District, said he was somewhat surprised at the new boundaries. He said he expected his district to extend farther south into the Brandt Road area, but not necessarily to the north. Under the new maps, District 17’s boundaries would be expanded to the north and east of Yacolt, while District 18 would border District 49 to the east and lose many of the rural areas it now encompasses.

“That’s not necessarily bad; it’s just different constituents,” Harris said. “If these maps stand, it will be a great district for me.”

The Vancouver lawmaker said he had hoped to see a better mix of political parties in every district.

“The 49th is still very Democrat. I think the 17th and 18th are still Republican. I would have liked a little more competitiveness in all the districts,” Harris said. “I don’t think that was accomplished.”

Census complications

It wasn’t just state lawmakers paying attention to the redistricting process. During the Clark County Council’s meeting Wednesday, senior policy analyst Lindsay Shafar explained the latest outcome to the council.

“They voted on it, but because of all of the data that would need to go into place to make all of those changes, the maps weren’t prepared. And because the maps weren’t finalized, the vote they took wasn’t on a final map because they hadn’t been created yet,” Shafar told the council.

Shafar also gave an overview of the changes to the council, noting that under the new maps, District 18 would include Felida, Salmon Creek and Battle Ground. She also noted that the 20th District would come considerably south into Clark County to include La Center, Ridgefield, Yacolt, Amboy and areas at the north end of the county.

“That’s kind of sad there was no flexibility,” said Councilor Gary Medvigy. “Because of all the data being so late, and because of the pandemic, we’re going to run into that locally as well.”

Clark County is also redrawing its district map; the process already has been delayed — in part — because Census data wasn’t available.

“There’s just too much time pressure,” Medvigy said. “It’s sad they didn’t just let it play out, give them one more day.”

Shafar said it would have required a state constitutional amendment to allow the redistricting commission more time. She noted that Medvigy wasn’t alone in those sentiments and the Legislature may look to put an amendment before voters soon.

Controversial action

This marks the first time the commission’s efforts to define the state’s 10 U.S. House districts and 49 state legislative districts were not finished on time.

Following a five-hour Zoom meeting late Monday night, the commissioners seemingly approved the new maps during two quick votes taken at 11:59 p.m. Before adjourning a few minutes later, the group’s chair even congratulated the other members for completing their tasks. However, comments made by the commissioners only minutes before those votes indicated several details on the new boundaries remained in dispute. Additionally, the final maps had still not been made available to the public even after the votes were taken.

Although the commission said the maps would be ready early the next morning, a statement released early Tuesday announced that the commission had missed the midnight deadline. Yet later that evening, the commission did release the long-awaited maps.

“While we acknowledge we missed the deadline for our maps to be considered by the Legislature, we see no reason why the Court can’t do so,” Commission Chair Sarah Augustine said in a statement. “These maps reflect the input of the thousands of people who took part in the process with us. It would be a shame to see these maps go unconsidered simply because the clock struck 12.”

Commissioner Paul Graves pointed to the pandemic, a monthslong delay in getting 2020 Census data and a deadline six weeks earlier than usual as contributing factors.

“We conducted an unprecedented public outreach program. We heard from thousands of Washingtonians, consulted extensively with tribal partners, and ultimately drew maps that are fair and reflect the agreement of the voting commissioners,” Graves said in a statement.

He said the commissioners had reached agreement before the deadline but were unable to make agreed-upon changes to the maps in time.

“That is a deep disappointment,” Graves said.

Despite the technical challenges, he said he supports the maps the commission produced and also recommended that the Supreme Court approve them.

“They are fair, they reflect the agreement of the four voting commissioners, and they will serve well the people of Washington,” Graves said.

The state redistricting process should have been smoother, he said.

“I believe strongly in open government. … So I am more than disappointed that the chaos Monday evening led to a lack of transparency and open deliberation,” Graves added. “We did not live up to the standard for open government that the commission promised, that I expect from my government, and that the people deserve.”