Why the state's redistricting plan counts as a success

What some might see as partisan gain (for Republicans) coming out of the redistricting plan actually seems to have been driven by shifting demographics.

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for the Washington state Legislature.

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for the Washington state Legislature.

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for Washington state's congressional districts.

Click to enlarge. Final redistricting plan for Washington state's congressional districts.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission went down to the wire with its work, but the members ended up with a good plan.

State commission members Slade Gorton, Tim Ceis, Tom Huff, and Dean Foster unanimously agreed on compromise congressional and legislative plans by 10:30 p.m. on New Years Day. It was not a surprise that they agreed to a plan, because they were not about to risk collective defeat.

Having studied redistricting for 40 years, and been involved in many court cases (such as in Washington, Mississippi, and California), I can attest that the Washington process and results are among the best. Given the commission members' forthright admission that they would try to change voters' districts as little as possible and attempt to protect incumbents, all the while enhancing chances for their respective parties, I’d grade the plans as A-minus — within those constraints. And even from an idealistic, good-government point of view, in which incumbency would not be a factor, the plan would still deserve a B. But idealism is not the system we have.

The commission had to come up with redistricting plans for both the congressional districts in the state and the state Legislature.

First, let's review the congressional plan. Washington had the enviable task of configuring a tenth district. The plan is an ingenious compromise that respects the geography of the state and cleverly balances Democratic and Republican aspirations.

This was made easier by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee’s decision to run for governor. Given the distribution of population and of incumbents, and the need to minimize county splits, there was little option for the state's 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th districts. And given the very high preference of the Democrats for  a district centered on Olympia, by far the largest city of the state without its own district, the Democrats seemed prepared and indeed had to accept  highly reconfigured 1st and 2nd districts, splitting the north Sound between an island, coastal, and urban (and Democratic) west, and a suburban, exurban, small town, and rural east, which probably leans slightly Republican (although President Obama  carried the area in 2008). This compromise is exactly what I predicted and advocated in Crosscut at the start of the process.

The second big change, one that is not only healthy for the state but in reality was totally compelled by our rapid increase in ethnic diversity and growth of minority population, is the creation of a majority-minority district, the pretty drastically redone 9th. This in turn required, fortuitously, the breakup of the city of Seattle in the 7th. This is actually good for Democrats as it avoids the packing and wasting of Democratic votes in a single Seattle-centered district. Again, this is a change I predicted and advocated. The inclusion of Bellevue is a little surprising and a more compact minority majority district could have been drawn, but the end result is not unreasonable, as Bellevue is not the place of few minorities it was a generation ago.

The third big congressional change was the breaking of the Cascade curtain by the inclusion of Chelan and Kittitas counties in the 8th district. This proved far less disruptive than having to shift part of Yakima and/or Benton counties west to the 3rd district.

After the brand-new 10th, the plan's greatest change is in the 1st District, where Inslee has served and which had the least resistance to alteration. This in turned changed the 2nd District, reshaping it more geographically than demographically. The creation of the 10th forced the 9th District north and east, displacing the 8th to the east (to create its crossing of  the Cascades). The new plan most closely reflects the Huff draft plan for the districts 1 through 5 and the 8 district, and the Ceis plan for the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th districts.

The winners and losers? Winners are Olympia, with its own district; Seattle now being part of two districts; and minorities with a majority district. I have no sense whether, over the decade, folks in Chelan and Kittitas will gain from being in the 8th district or not. The Wenatchee metropolitan area will get two representatives, sort of. One could speculate that the plan slightly benefits the Republican side, but this is because of demographic change, not any weakness in the Democratic negotiations.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 6, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Dick Morrell is a state treasure. His perspective is always valuable and insightful. I wonder at which point he would support a legislative or congressional district that was specifically designed to create a majority of European-American residents. Do European-Americans constitute a community of interest? Maybe so. It would sure help me understand that interest though if somebody would explain to me what it is cause I'm clueless.

Posted Fri, Jan 6, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

I too am a Morrell fan - with a pretty good story in that regard. However the re-districting of the State **without** some sort of independent voter participation makes the process fatally flawed.

This does balance out against Sam Reed's top two primary system, but the continuing attacks against independents - separately and jointly show a fundamental disregard for the foundation of our democracy - case in point is the cancellation of this year's presidential primary, albeit ostentatiously for 'budget' reasons.

Posted Fri, Jan 6, 3 p.m. Inappropriate

Yeesh, @crankyoldlady, crack open a history book and look up the Voting Rights Act while you're at it.

Urging the enshrinement of "European American" districts -- which would describe most existing legislative districts, by the way -- trivializes and demeans the struggles of minority citizens to vote and to elect legislators who will represent their interests. Even today, states are hiding behind "voter fraud" rules to systematically exclude minorities from voting (http://wapo.st/uqODIR).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice website, "Supreme Court decisions have held that drawing majority-minority districts may be required to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act." (http://1.usa.gov/yCzN65)

Hoda

Posted Sat, Jan 7, 5:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Hoda, what is my "community of interest" with other European-Americans?

I'm an old fat lady who believes that a capable adult should be able to do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she doesn't injure other people, animals, or the earth. That the community is there to support not control others. That government should give community members a hand-up, not a long-term hand-out. There may indeed be an ethnic component to my belief system but I'm happy to be represented by anyone who espouses anything close to my beliefs. Or wants to represent the interests of old fat women.

So far, it's never happened. But maybe the next redistricting commission will try to accomodate my interests too.

Posted Sat, Jan 7, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

There's a legitimate discussion to be had about whether drawing minority-majority districts are an effective way to redress current and historic wrongs. PI columnist Joel Connelly, for example, thinks "racially gerrymandered" districts open the door to political hackery, as do other types of districts designed to preserve "safe seats" (http://bit.ly/xidrYe).

But this clearly isn't that discussion.

My beef with crankyoldlady's comments (beyond her self-professed bigotry) is that they betray a complete ignorance of the context under which minority-majority districts were created in the first place. (Yes, if people who look like you are being excluded from the voting booth and your communities are getting the short shrift in Congress, then you indeed have a shared interest.) And David_Smith, your comparison of redistricting to Jim Crow is separately but equally daft.

We can debate whether majority-minority redistricting makes sense here in a state with mail-in ballots and a somewhat diffuse minority population, but let's try and show a little respect for the people under consideration first.

Hoda

Posted Sat, Jan 7, 5:51 p.m. Inappropriate

I guess I need to say a little more about the redistricting process! Redistricting theory (and law) talks about criteria for effective redistricting. Ideally, these are equal population, reasonable compactness, a mix of “safer” and more “competitive” districts, and respect for communities of interest, Communities of interest include (a) respect for the integrity of political units (counties and cities, school districts, reservations), (b) avoiding the splitting of recognized territorial communities—which could be racial, or linguistic, or ethnic (e.g., Hispanic, Jewish, yes even Polish or Swedish, if there were enough folks] and even, if possible, communities of similar age, life style, religion or political persuasion. If you read the comments of people to the Commission, a lot spoke about “their” community.
There is no attempt to maximize the number of minority districts. Rather the goal is to recognize them when they are in fact there. Our commission did a fairly good job in addressing all of these criteria, considering the constraints of population equality, the state’s sometimes weird geography, and politics!

DMorrill

Posted Sun, Jan 8, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

The Voting Rights Act was written almost 50 years ago to right some horrific wrongs taking place in our country. Some states discouraged voting by African-Americans through state laws and through passive and active intimidation. It was brutally wrong then and if, it were happening today, it would be equally wrong and worthy of any remedy.

At what point in our history will we be able to live as a people to whom ethnicity is irrelevant? Should we reexamine our policies every 50 years or so to see whether they are still needed - and whether that need is based on the reasons the laws were originally written or whether the laws now serve some other purpose?

If say an ethnic group like European-Americans which is now in the majority in a region of the state becomes a minority in that region, must redistricting create a legislative district that maximizes their voting rights? What is their community of interest? If not, is it a double standard? I don't know but find the other side of the ethnic "community of interest" question puzzling and a bit unsettling.

Posted Sun, Jan 8, 12:13 p.m. Inappropriate

The largest city in the new 10th district is Lakewood, not Olympia. Also, there are more Pierce County voters in the 10th than Thurston County voters. I suspect the people in Lakewood, Puyallup and University Place might object to the 10th district being called Olympia's district.

leon0112

Posted Sat, Jan 14, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

The 14th LD is heavy at one end, with about 20% on the bank of the Columbia and about 80% in the City of Yakima or beyond. To drive from Stevenson to Yakima, one crosses over Satus Pass (higher than Snoqualmie), skirts the edges of the Yakama Reservation, drives through about half the length of the 15th LD and finally arrives, about 3 hours later. Also, why has a small clump of precincts on the Clark County side of the Clark/Skamania boundary not been merged with the rest of Clark County? Following county boundaries was to have been a high order criterion. The 14th LD would be difficult enough without that extra bit.

pico

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