After hosting 17 statewide public forums to gather citizen input on new voting boundary maps, redistricting commissioners Slade Gorton, the former GOP senator and state senate Republican appointee to the commission, and Tim Ceis, the former deputy mayor of Seattle and the state senate Democrats' pick, took turns at a downtown Seattle luncheon last Thursday at the Washington Athletic Club to discuss redistricting.
A quick refresher: Redistricting happens every ten years to reflect the demographic changes shown in the previous year's census. Due to Washington's population surge in the past decade, the state will get a new 10th congressional district, making this year's redistricting process more contentious than usual. It's the redistricting commission's job to set the location and boundaries of the 10th district, and how to adjust the lines of the other nine districts to accommodate the new addition. The redistricting commission will also reshape the state's 49 legislative districts.
Some of the things the commission will have to consider:
• The delicate balance between the objective and the subjective.
Gorton noted that the commission is required by state law to honor the physical boundaries of city and county lines (the objective) and map electoral districts along these geographic lines "as close as possible as practicable," but also take into consideration "communities of interest" (the subjective)—any community that's bound together by categories such as economic status or ethnicity.
• The hot-button issue of majority-minority districts. Gorton and Ceis acknowledged the push to locate the 10th Congressional district in south King County, where several cities are composed primarily of communities of color, as well as proposals to create several majority-minority Hispanic legislative districts on the other side of the Cascades. But fans of minority districts such as the ACLU (and Bobby Forch, who's running against city council member Jean Godden)—shouldn't get too excited. Gorton, however, noted that majority-minority districts were a “strong consideration,” but not the “only consideration.” [pullquote] Which eastern Washington region wants to be part of a western Washington district? “We all know the answer to that”, quipped Gorton. “None of them".[/pullquote]
• The tricky task of determining which part of eastern Washington to merge with a western Washington district.
A population spike has produced a surplus of 150,000 people in eastern Washington's voting districts. However, neither commissioner elaborated any specific option for integrating those new residents into a western district.
• More murky clues about the plans brewing in the commissioners' minds.
Ceis said the commission would attempt to “respect the incumbency” as much as possible, but it was "not reasonable" to expect the commission to honor everyone's “don't change my district” request.
Gorton and Ceis also pointed out that Washington is one of the few states in the country that uses a bipartisan commission for redistricting rather than relying on the state legislature. The idea is that a commission is less likely to gerrymander than the party in power in the legislature. Gorton also mentioned that the commission has not been sued over its voter maps in the past.
The final public hearing with opportunity for comment will be next Tuesday, August 9 at the New Holly Gathering Hall in south Seattle, from 6-7 pm. Expect to find yourself in a sea of teal—that's the color of the One America t-shirts that will be worn by members and constituents who are attending to advocate for a majority-minority district. (Sorry Josh, couldn't resist the shout-out.)