State Watch

Washington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines

Washington state’s independent redistricting commission said late Tuesday it had reached a bipartisan agreement on new congressional and legislative district lines just hours after admitting they had failed to meet a state-mandated deadline.

In a statement posted online, commission chair Sarah Augustine acknowledged the four voting members — two Republicans and two Democrats — had missed the deadline. In a subsequent tweet, the commission said it had in fact agreed to new maps, even after the deadline passed.

“The plan won the consensus of the voting members of the Commission but were not completed in the time prescribed by law thereby giving jurisdiction over the process and its outcome to the” state Supreme Court, the commission tweeted. 

“While we acknowledge we missed the deadline for our maps to be considered by the [state legislature], we see no reason why the Court can’t do so,” Augustine said in a statement. “These maps reflect the input of 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.”

The bizarre back-and-forth came after commissioners appeared at loggerheads before a Monday deadline. In an online Zoom hearing as the hours ticked by, commissioners frequently disappeared into private mode, which some good government advocates say appeared to violate open meeting laws. 

The commission took a quick vote to approve maps before the midnight deadline, but they did not release those maps. On Tuesday, they acknowledged that no actual final agreement had been reached.

State law now punts authority to the state Supreme Court to complete the remapping process. But the court — ostensibly nonpartisan, though five of the nine members were appointed by Democratic governors to fill vacancies — is likely to give substantial weight to the commission’s final version.

The congressional district maps released by the commission late Tuesday appear to make only cosmetic changes to existing boundary lines.

Some voters in southern Washington are shuffled between districts currently held by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R), Dan Newhouse (R) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R), three safe Republican seats. Rep. Suzan DelBene’s (D) district will shrink into a safer Democratic seat. Rep. Kim Schrier (D), who won a surprisingly close reelection bid in 2020, will gain new voters in southern King County and eastern Snohomish County; it is not clear how exactly those voters will change Schrier’s reelection hopes.

Districts held by Reps. Adam Smith (D), Pramila Jayapal (D), Marilyn Strickland (D) and Derek Kilmer (D) will remain largely unchanged, though Kilmer will inherit some of Strickland’s old voters in Mason County.

Washington state has one of the oldest redistricting commissions in the country, first used after the 1990 census. This year marks the first time commissioners failed to meet their state-mandated deadline to draw new lines.

In their statement Tuesday morning, commissioners blamed the delayed delivery of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, caused by litigation over some Trump-era decisions relating to the decennial census and by the coronavirus pandemic, for their inability to meet the deadline.

Tags Adam Smith Cathy McMorris Rodgers Dan Newhouse Derek Kilmer Jaime Herrera Beutler Kim Schrier Pramila Jayapal Redistricting Suzan DelBene Washington

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