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News / Northwest

Democratic leaders will leave court to redraw disputed map for Washington legislative district

By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard
Published: September 14, 2023, 4:57pm

Washington’s bipartisan Redistricting Commission will not be reconvened and a federal judge should redraw the disputed map for a Yakima Valley legislative district, the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature said Wednesday.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane issued a joint statement that there would not be a special legislative session to reactivate the redistricting panel. It would take a two-thirds vote in each chamber to accomplish that.

“The most expedient and non-political way to move forward is for the court to directly adopt a map that meets statutory and constitutional obligations,” reads the joint statement.

The statement, coupled with Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to not summon lawmakers to Olympia, makes clear U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik will steer the process of redrawing the boundaries.

Lasnik, siding with voters who brought a lawsuit, ruled in August that the boundaries for the 15th District undermine the ability of Latino voters to participate equally in elections, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

He called for the reconvening of the Redistricting Commission to redraw the map and deliver it to the Legislature by Jan. 8, 2024. If it doesn’t, then he said the court would carry out the task.

His order gave those involved in the lawsuit until Jan. 15 to present proposed maps. And he said the parties, which include the state, the plaintiffs, and a group of intervenors challenging the district on different grounds, could submit proposals together or separately.

The intervenors, who argued race was given too much weight in the drawing of the boundaries and that the map should be redrawn with a focus on compactness and communities of interest, plan to appeal Lasnik’s ruling.

Now that it’s clear the Redistricting Commission will not be involved, the state could provide an update to the federal judge that might alter the schedule.

The legislative district now encompasses parts of five counties in south-central Washington and is represented by three Republicans. During the trial conducted by Lasnik, potential maps put forth by Latino voters who sued showed an easier path for Democrats to win.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, on Monday, said the Legislature should call itself into special session and that the GOP caucus would “whole-heartedly support” reconvening the redistricting panel.

The Washington State Standard is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that provides original reporting, analysis and commentary on Washington state government and politics. We seek to keep you informed about Washington’s most pressing issues, the decisions elected leaders are making, how they are spending tax dollars and who is influencing public policy.