Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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Jayne: Legislative map a tricky puzzle

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

There is an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. It might not be as witty as “an elephant is a mouse drawn to government specifications,” but it seems applicable in this case.

In perusing the proposed legislative maps from members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, one gleans an appreciation for the difficulty of the task. How do you put together a jigsaw puzzle with 49 pieces where the pieces can be shrunk or stretched but must represent the same thing?

That thing is a population close to 157,251 for each legislative district. While adhering to that guideline, the four commission members also tried to avoid dividing cities or tribal lands between districts.

The results are fascinating. And the map proposals and explanations from the committee members are worth a look. (They can be found at https://www.redistricting.wa.gov/commissioner-proposed-maps).

Regardless of which map or combination of maps is eventually selected, some Clark County voters are in for big changes. But first, a little explanation.

After each decennial U.S. Census, states are tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative districts to represent a changing population. In Washington, that is done by a four-member commission, with one member chosen by each party in the state Senate and House of Representatives. A fifth, nonvoting chairperson is selected by the committee.

This is not perfect; someday, it will be done by a computer program. But Washington’s system is preferable to that in most states, where the Legislature draws the maps and the party in power has the ability — and incentive — to solidify its power. Oregon’s Legislature, for example, is on the verge of imploding rather than agreeing on a solution.

In our state, a map agreed on by at least three commission members must be forwarded to the Legislature by Nov. 15. Lawmakers may approve or reject it, but they have limited power to alter the puzzle.

That brings us back to the changes for local residents. The proposal from Joe Fain, for example, would have Camas and Washougal moving from the 18th Legislative District to the 14th, which would include all of Skamania and Klickitat counties and much of Yakima County. The result could be that residents in eastern Clark County would have representatives from Goldendale or Bickleton; or, more likely, residents of Bickleton would have representatives from Camas, 138 miles away.

Part of the reason for that, Fain explains, is to guarantee that “the Yakama Reservation and related tribal lands would reside entirely within the 14th Legislative District, reflecting a desire expressed several times by representatives of the Tribal Council.”

Or consider the proposal from Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, which would have the 20th District extending south to gobble up La Center and Ridgefield, currently in the sprawling 18th District. Walkinshaw’s statement reads: “By keeping communities together wherever possible and prioritizing the needs of tribal nations and historically underrepresented communities, the map provides the best opportunity for all kinds of communities to elect representatives of their choosing.”

One change that appears unavoidable: The 14th District and the 20th District will cover expanded portions of Clark County; both districts currently include small swaths of the county. Because the population of rural areas is growing less quickly than urban areas, rural districts throughout the state will grow in geographic size to balance the populations.

Meanwhile, commission members also are trying to create more competitive voting districts by combining Republican-leaning precincts with Democrat-leaning ones. Undoubtedly, that would be beneficial to our democracy, but it further complicates an already difficult task.

And if you think it sounds easy, you can give it a try. The commission’s website has a tool for drawing a map and submitting it. But be forewarned: You’ll probably start out drawing a horse and end up with a camel.

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